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Full text of "American dilemma: the Negro problem and modern democracy"




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AN AMERICAN DILEMMA 



AN 

AMERICAN 

DILEMMA 

The Negro Problem 
and Modern Democracy 



by 

GUNNAR MYRDAL 

WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF 

RICHARD STERNER 

AND 

ARNOLD ROSE 




HARPER y BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 
New York London 



AN AMERICAN DILEMMA 

Copyright, 1944, by Harper y Brothers 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book arc reserved. 
No part of the book may be reproduced in any 
manner whatsoever without written permission 
except in the case of brief quotations embodied 
in critical articles and reviews. For information 
address Harper fc? Brothers 



This study was made possible by funds granted 
by Carnegie Corporation of New York. That 
corporation is not, however, the author, owner, 
publisher, or proprietor of this publication, and 
is not to he understood as approving by virtue 
of its grant any of the statenienls made or 
views expressed therein. 



FOREWORD 



I have been asked to write a prefatory note for this book, because of 
the part played by the Carnegie Corporation in inaugurating the compre- 
hensive study of which it is the outcome. In the public mind, the American 
foundations are associated with gifts for endowment and buildings to 
universities, colleges and other cultural and scientific institutions, and to a 
lesser degree with the financial support of fundamental research. It is true 
that a great part of the funds for which their Trustees are responsible have 
been distributed for these purposes, but the foundations do other things 
not so generally recognized. There are, for example, problems which face 
the American people, and sometimes mankind in general, which call for 
studies upon a scale too broad for any single institution or association to 
undertake, and in recent years certain foundations have devoted a consider- 
able part of their available resources to the financing of such comprehensive 
studies. " 

The primary purpose of studies of this character is the collection, analysis 
and interpretation of existing knowledge; it is true that considerable 
research may prove necessary to fill the gaps as they reveal themselves, 
but such research is a secondary rather than a primary part of the under- 
taking as a whole. Provided the foundation limits itself to its proper func- 
tion, namely to make the facts available and let them speak for themselves, 
and does not undertake to instruct the public as to what to do about them, 
studies of this kind provide a wholly proper and, as experience has shown, 
sometimes a highly important use of their funds. 

As examples, we may take the inquiry and report of the Committee on 
the Costs of Medical Care (i 928-1 933), made possible by a group of 
foundations. Lord Hailey's memorable study, An African Survey, in the 
thirties was financed by the Carnegie Corporation. The significance of such 
undertakings cannot be measured by their cost. The volumes on the Poor 
Whites of South Africa, published in 1932, represent a relatively modest 
enterprise, but they have largely changed the thinking of the South 
Africans upon a social question of great importance to them. 

While the underlying purpose of these studies is to contribute to the 
general "advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding," 
to quote the Charter of the Carnegie Corporation, it sometimes happens 
that a secondary factor, namely the need of the foundation itself for fuller 
light in the formulation and development of its own program, has been 



vi Foreword 

influential in their inception. This is true in the present case. The wide 
sweep of Andrew Carnegie's interests included the Negro, he gave gener- 
ously to Negro institutions, and was closely identified with both Hampton 
and Tuskegee Institutes. The Corporation which he created maintained 
that interest, and during the years between its organization in 191 1 and the 
inauguration of the present study, it made grants of more than two and 
one-half million dollars in direct response thereto. 

In 1931, the late Newton D. Baker joined the Corporation Board. He 
was the son of a Confederate officer, attended the Episcopal Academy in 
Virginia and the Law School of Washington and Lee University, and spent 
the greater part of his early years in the Border states of West Virginia 
and Maryland. His services first as City Solicitor and later as Mayor of 
Cleveland gave him direct experience with the growing Negro populations 
in Northern cities, and as Secretary of War he had faced the special prob- 
lems which the presence of the Negro element in our population inevitably 
creates in time of national crisis. 

Mr. Baker knew so much more than the rest of us on the Board about 
these questions, and his mind had been so deeply concerned with them, 
that we readily agreed when he told us that more knowledge and better 
organized and interrelated knowledge were essential before the Corpora- 
tion could intelligently distribute its own funds. We agreed with him 
further in believing that the gathering and digestion of the material might 
well have a usefulness far beyond our own needs. 

The direction of such a comprehensive study of the Negro in America, 
as the Board thereupon authorized, was a serious question. There was no 
lack of competent scholars in the United States who were deeply interested 
in the problem and had already devoted themselves to its study, but the 
whole question had been for nearly a hundred years so charged with 
emotion that it appeared wise to seek as the responsible head of the under- 
taking someone who could approach his task with a fresh mind, uninflu- 
enced by traditional attitudes or by earlier conclusions, and it was therefore 
decided to "import" a general director—somewhat as the late Charles P. 
Howland was called across the Atlantic to supervise the repatriation of 
the Greeks in Asia Minor after the close of the first World War. And since 
the emotional factor affects the Negroes no less than the whites, the search 
was limited to countries of high intellectual and scholarly standards but 
with no background or traditions of imperialism which might lessen the 
confidence of the Negroes in the United States as to the complete impar- 
tiality of the study and the validity of its findings. Under these limitations, 
the obvious places to look were Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, 
and the search ended in the selection of Dr. Gunnar Myrdal, a scholar who 
despite his youth had already achieved an international reputation aa a 
social economist, a professor in the University of Stockholm, economic 



Foreword vii 

adviser to the Swedish Government, and a.member of the Swedish Senate. 
Dr. Myrdal had a decade earlier spent a year in the United States as a 
Fellow of the Spelman Fund, and when the invitation was extended to 
him by the Corporation in 1937, was about to make a second visit at the 
invitation of Harvard University to deliver the Godkin Lectures. 

It was understood that he should be free to appoint and organize a staff 
of his own selection in the United States and that he should draw upon 
the experience of other scholars and experts in less formal fashion, but 
that the report as finally drawn up and presented to the public should 
represent and portray his own decisions, alike in the selection of data and 
in the conclusions as to their relative importance. Upon him rested the 
responsibility, and to him should go the credit for what I for one believe 
to be a remarkable accomplishment. 

The difficulties of Dr. Myrdal's task, which would have been great 
enough in any event, were much increased by the outbreak of the present 
war. At a critical point in the development of the enterprise, he returned 
to Sweden to confer with his colleagues in the Government and the Univer- 
sity, and only after nine months was he enabled to return by a long and 
circuitous route. Meanwhile, defense and war needs here had taken more 
and more of the time and energies of his collaborators. Despite all these 
difficulties, delays and complications, his task has now been completed and 
is presented in these volumes. The Carnegie Corporation is under deep 
and lasting obligation to Dr. Myrdal. The full degree of this obligation 
will be appreciated only when the material he has gathered and interpreted 
becomes generally known. 

Though he has achieved an extraordinary mastery of the English lan- 
guage, Dr. Myrdal is not writing in his mother tongue. As a result, there 
is a freshness and often a piquancy in his choice of words and phrases which 
is an element of strength. Here and there it may lead to the possibility of 
misunderstanding of some word or some phrase. This is a risk that has 
been deliberately taken. It would have been possible for some American 
to edit the very life out of Dr. Myrdal's manuscript in an effort to avoid 
all possibility of offending the susceptibilities of his readers, but the result 
would have been a less vital and a far less valuable document than it is 
in its present form. 

Thanks are also due to the Director's many associates and advisers, and in 
particular to Professor Samuel A. Stouffer and Dr. Richard Sterner, who 
during Dr. Myrdal's absence carried the burden of direction and decision, 
and to Messrs. Shelby M. Harrison, William F. Ogburn and Donald R. 
Young for their generously given editorial services in connection with the 
publication of some of the research memoranda prepared by Dr. Myrdal's 
collaborators. 

When the Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation asked for the preparation 



viii Foreword 

of this report in 1937, no one (except possibly Adolf Hitler) could have 
foreseen that it would be made public at a day when the place of the 
Negro in our American life would be the subject of greatly heightened 
interest in the United States, because of the social questions which the 
war has brought in its train both in our military and in our industrial life. 
It is a day, furthermore, when the eyes of men of all races the world over 
are turned upon us to see how the people of the most powerful of the 
United Nations are dealing at home with a major problem of race relations. 
It would have been better in some ways if the book could have appeared 
somewhat earlier, for the process of digestion would then have taken place 
under more favorable conditions, but, be that as it may, it is fortunate that 
its appearance is no longer delayed. 

I venture to close these introductory paragraphs with a personal word 
dealing with a matter upon which Dr. Myrdal himself has touched in his 
preface, but which I feel moved to state in my own words. It is inevitable 
that many a reader will find in these volumes statements and conclusions 
to which he strongly objects, be he white or colored, Northerner or South- 
erner. May I urge upon each such reader that he make every effort to react 
to these statements intellectually and not emotionally. This advice, I 
realize, is much more easy to give than to follow, but it is given with a 
serious purpose. The author is under no delusions of omniscience} as a 
scholar, he is inured to taking hard knocks as well as giving them, and he 
will be the first to welcome challenges as to the accuracy of any data he has 
presented, the soundness of any general conclusions he has reached, and 
the relative weight assigned by him to any factor or factors in the compli- 
cated picture he draws. Criticism and correction on these lines will add 
greatly to the value of the whole undertaking. 

F. P. Keppel 
December 15, 1942. 



AUTHOR'S PREFACE 



Late in the summer of 1957 Frederick P. Keppel, on behalf of the 
Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, of which he was then 
President, invited me to become the director of "a comprehensive study 
of the Negro in the United States, to be undertaken in a wholly objective 
and dispassionate way as a social phenomenon." 

Our idea, so far as we have developed it, would be to invite one man to be respon- 
sible for the study as a whole, but to place at his disposal the services of a group 
of associates, Americans, who would be competent to deal as experts with the anthro- 
pological, economic, educational and social aspects of the question, including publir 
health and public administration. 11 

After some correspondence and, later, personal conferences in the spring 
of 1938, when I was in the United States for another purpose, the matter 
was settled. It was envisaged that the study would require a minimum of 
two years of intensive work, but that it might take a longer time before the 
final report could be submitted. 

On September 10, 1938, 1 arrived in America to start the work. Richard 
Sterner of the Royal Social Board, Stockholm, had been asked to accom- 
pany me. On Mr. Keppel's advice, we started out in the beginning of 
October on a two months' exploratory journey through the Southern states. 
Jackson Davis, of the General Education Board, who has behind him the 
experiences of a whole life devoted to improving race relations in the 
South and is himself a Southerner, kindly agreed to be our guide, and has 
since then remained a friend and an advisor. 

We traveled by car from Richmond, Virginia, and passed through most of the 
Southern states. We established contact with a great number of white and Negro 
leaders in various activities; visited universities, colleges, schools, churches, and 
various state and community agencies as well as factories and plantations; talked to 
police officers, teachers, preachers, politicians, journalists, agriculturists, workers, 
sharecroppers, and in fact, all sorts of people, colored and white . . . 

During this trip the State Agents for Negro Education in the various states were 
our key contacts. They were all extremely generous with their time and interest, and 
were very helpful. 

The trip was an exploratory journey: we went around with our eyes wide open and 
gathered impressions, but did not feel ready, and in any case, had not the necessary 
time to collect in an original way data and material for the Study. The experience, 

'Letter from Mr. Frederick P. Keppel, August 12, 1937. 



x Author's Preface 

however, was necessary. Without it our later studies will have no concrete point* at 
which to be fixed.* 

After a period of library work a first memorandum on the planning of 
the research to be undertaken was submitted to Mr. Keppel on January 28, 
1939. It was later mimeographed, and I had, at this stage of the study, the 
advantage of criticisms and suggestions, in oral discussions and by letter, 
from a number of scholars and experts, among whom were: W. W. Alex- 
ander, Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas, Midian O. Bousfield, Sterling Brown, 
W. O. Brown, Ralph J. Bunche, Eveline Burns, Horace Cayton, Allison 
Davis, Jackson Davis, John Dollard, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edwin Embree, 
Earl Engle, Clark Foreman, E. Franklin Frazier, Abram L. Harris, 
Melville J. Herskovits, Charles S. Johnson, Guion G. Johnson, Guy B. 
Johnson, Eugene Kinckle Jones, Thomas Jesse Jones, Otto Klineberg, 
Ralph Linton, Alain Locke, Frank Lorimer, George Lundberg, Frank 
Notestein, Howard W. Odum, Frederick Osborn, Robert E. Park, Hortense 
Powdermaker, Arthur Raper, Ira DeA. Reid, E. B. Reuter, Sterling Spero, 
Dorothy Swaine Thomas, W. I. Thomas, Charles H. Thompson, Edward 
L. Thorndike, Rupert B. Vance, Jacob Viner, Walter White, Doxey A. 
Wilkerson, Faith Williams, Louis Wirth, L. Hollingsworth Wood, 
Thomas J. Woofter, Jr., Donald R. Young. 

During the further planning of the study in terms of specific research 
projects and collaborators, Donald R. Young of the Social Science Research 
Council, Charles S. Johnson of Fisk University, and Thomas J. Woofter, 
Jr., then of the Works Progress Administration, were relied upon heavily 
for advice. Mr. Young, in particular, during this entire stage of the study, 
was continuously consulted not only on all major questions but on many 
smaller concerns as they arose from day to day, and he placed at my 
disposal his great familiarity with the field of study as well as with 
available academic personnel. Upon the basis of the reactions I had 
received, I reworked my plans and gradually gave them a more definite 
form in terms of feasible approaches and the manner of actually handling 
the problems. A conference was held at Asbury Park, New Jersey, from 
April 23 to April 28 inclusive, at which were present: Ralph J. Bunche, 
CharJes S. Johnson, Guy B. Johnson, Richard Sterner, Dorothy S. Thomas, 
Thomas J. Woofter, Jr., and Donald R. Young. As a result of the confer- 
ence I submitted to Mr. Keppel, in a letter of April 28, 1939, a more 
definite plan for the next stage of the study. The general terms of reference 
were defined in the following way: 

The rtud* thus conceived, should aim at determining the aocial, political, educa- 
tional, and econom.c rntu. of the Negro in the United State* a. well as defining 
opinion, held by different groups of Negrdes and white, a. to hi. "right" atttua. h 
mat, further, be concerned with both recent change, and current trend, with respect 
'Memorandum to Mr. Keppel, January a«, i 939 . 



Author's Preface xi 

to the Negro's position in American society. Attention must also be given to the 
total American picture with particular emphasis on relations between the two races. 
Finally, it must consider what changes are being or can be induced by education, 
legislation, interracial efforts, concerted action by Negro groups, etc. 

Mr. Keppel, who from the start had given me the benefit of his most 
personal interest and advice, and who had followed the gradual develop- 
ment of the approach, gave his approval to the practical plans. Needed 
were a working staff, consisting of experts who could devote their whole 
time to the project, and, in addition, the collaboration of other experts to 
prepare research memoranda on special subjects. I was most fortunate in 
securing the cooperation needed. The following staff members were 
engaged, besides Richard Sterner: Ralph J. Bunche, Guy B. Johnson, Paul 
H. Norgren, Dorothy S. Thomas, and Doxey A. Wilkerson. Norgren did 
not join the staff until November I, 1939. Mrs. Thomas left the study on 
January 15, 1940, for another engagement. Outside the staff, the following 
persons undertook various research tasks, namely: M. F. Ashley-Montagu, 
Margaret Brenman, Sterling Brown, Barbara Burks, Allison Davis, J. G. 
St. Clair Drake, Harold F. Dorn, G. James Fleming, Lyonel C. Florant, 
E. Franklin Frazier, Herbert Goldhamer, Melville J. Herskovits, T. 
Arnold Hill, Eugene L. Horowitz, Eleanor C. Isbell, Charles S. Johnson, 
Guion G. Johnson, Dudley Kirk, Louise K. Kiser, Otto Klineberg, Ruth 
Landes, Gunnar Lange, T. C. McCormick, Benjamin Malzberg, Gladys 
Palmer, Arthur Raper, Ira DeA. Reid, Edward Shils, Bernhard J. Stern, 
Louis Wirth, T. J. Woofter, Jr. There were the following assistants to 
staff members and outside collaborators, who worked for various periods: 
Berta Asch, Lloyd H. Bailer, Louis Boone, Frieda Brim, Vincent Brown, 
William B. Bryant, Elwood C. Chisolm, Walter Chivers, Kenneth Clark, 
Belle Cooper, Lenore Epstein, Edmonia Grant, Louis O. Harper, James 
Healy, Mary C. Ingham, James E. Jackson, Jr., Wilhelmina Jackson, 
Anne De B. Johnson, Louis W. Jones, Alan D. Kandel, Simon Marcson, 
Felix E. Moore, Jr., Rose K. Nelson, Herbert R. Northrup, Edward N. 
Palmer, Lemuel A. Penn, Glaucia B. Roberts, Arnold M. Rose, George 
C. Stoney, Joseph Taylor, Benjamin Tepping, Harry J. Walker, Richard 
B. Whitten, Milton Woll, Rowena Wyant, and Walter Wynne. Mrs. 
Rowena Hadsell Saeger was the executive secretary of the study through- 
out this stage. 

During the summer of 1939 I prepared a detailed plan for the study.* 
The work on the various research memoranda started gradually during 
the summer and fall of 1939, and I remained in close touch with all my 
collaborators. As I wanted to be able to corroborate, as far as possible, 

* "Memorandum on the Disposition of the Study on the American Negro." 

information in the literary sources and in the research memoranda being 
prepared for the study, by looking at interracial relations in various parts 



xii Author's Preface 

of the country with my own eyes, 1 continued to reserve as much of my 
time as possible for work in the field. 

After the Germans had invaded Denmark and Norway in April, 1940, 
Mr. Keppel and I agreed that my duty was to go home to Sweden. Samuel 
A. Stouffer — who, meanwhile, had undertaken the responsibilities on the 
staff which Mrs. Thomas had left — agreed to take upon himself the burden 
of directing the project in my absence. Without reserve, he unselfishly 
devoted all his talents and all his energy to the task of bringing the research 
to completion by September 1, 1940, and he succeeded. I shall always 
remain in deep gratitude to Stouffer for what he did during those months 
and for the moral support he thereafter has unfailingly given me and the 
project. 

Because of the delay in the completion of the work — and, indeed, the 
uncertainty as to whether I would ever be able to return to the task of 
writing a final report — the Corporation decided, in the fall of 1940, to 
facilitate the publication of some of the memoranda. A Committee to advise 
In the selection of those contributions most nearly ready for publication 
was appointed, consisting of Donald R. Young, Chairman, Shelby M. 
Harrison and William F. Ogburn. Samuel A. Stouffer served as Secretary 
to this committee. The following volumes have been published: 

Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past. New York: Harper & Brother*, 

1941. 
Charles S. Johnson, Patterns of Negro Segregation. New York: Harper & Brothers, 

1943. 
Richard Sterner, The Negro's Share. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943. 

A fourth volume is to be published later: 

Otto Klineberg, editor, Characteristics of the American Negro. New York: Harper & 
Brothers. 

This volume contains the following research memoranda, the manuscripts 
of which will be deposited in the Schomburg Collection of the New York 
Public Library. 

Otto Klineberg, "Tests of Negro Intelligence," "Experimental Studies of Negro 

Personality." 
Benjamin Malzberg, "Mental Disease among American Negroes: A Statistical 

Analysis." 
Louis Wirth and Herbert Goldhamer, "The Hybrid and the Problem of Miscegena- 
tion." 
Eugene L. Horowitz, " 'Race' Attitudes." 
Gny Johnson, "The Stereotypes of the American Negro." 

The following unpublished manuscripts, prepared for the study — after 
some provision has been made to preserve the authors' rights — are being 



Author's Preface xiii 

deposited in the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library 
where they will be available for scientific reference:* 

M. F. Ashley-Montagu, "Origin, Composition and Physical Characteristics of the 
American Negro Population." 

Margaret Brenman, "Personality Traits of Urban Negro Girls." 

Sterling Brown, "The Negro in American Culture" (fragment). 

Ralph Bunche, "Conceptions and Ideologies of the Negro Problem," "The Pro- 
grams, Ideologies, Tactics, and Achievements of Negro Betterment and Inter- 
racial Organizations," "A Brief and Tentative Analysis of Negro Leadership," 
"The Political Status of the Negro." 

Barbara Burks, "The Present Status of the Nature-Nurture Problem as It Relates to 
Intelligence." 

Allison Davis, "Negro Churches and Associations in the Lower South." 

Harold F. Dorn, "The Health of the Negro." 

J. G. St. Clair Drake, "Negro Churches and Associations in Chicago." 

G. James Fleming, "The Negro Press." 

Lyonel C. Florant, "Critique of the Census of the United States," "Negro Migia- 
tion — 1860-1940" (revised edition, 1942, of the Stouffer-Florant manuscript). 

E. Franklin Frazier, "Recreation and Amusement among American Negroes," "Stories 
of Experiences with Whites." 

T. Arnold Hill, "Digest and Analysis of Questionnaires Submitted by Urban League 
Secretaries for 'The Negro in America.' Churches and Lodges, Negro Business 
and Businessmen, Racial Attitudes, Recreation and Leisure Time." 

E. C. Isbell, "The Negro Family in America," "Statistics of Population Growth 
and Composition." 

Guion G. Johnson, "A History of Racial Ideologies in the United States with Refer- 
ence to the Negro." 

Guion G. Johnson and Guy B. Johnson, "The Church and the Race Problem in 
the United States." 

Guy B. Johnson and Louise K. Kiser, "The Negro and Crime." 

Dudley Kirk, "The Fertility of the Negro." 

Ruth Landcs, "The Ethos of the Negro in the New World." 

Gunnar Laage, "Trends in Southern Agriculture," "The Agricultural Adjustment 
Program and the Negro" (fragment). 

T. C. McCormick, "The Negro in Agriculture." 

Benjamin Malzberg, "A Study of Delusions among Negroes with Mental Diseases." 

Paul Norgren, "Negro Labor and Its Problems." 

* In addition to the unpublished research memoranda listed, the following material is also 
deposited in the Schomburg Collection: 

Memorandum to Mr. Keppcl, January 28, 1939 (containing the first plan of the Study) 
Memorandum to the Staff, "Disposition of the Study on the American Negro," September 

10, 1939 (containing the definitive research program) 
Memorandum to the Staff, "Main Viewpoints and Emphases of the Study," February 8, 

1940 
Memorandum to the Staff, "Preparation of Manuscripts," February 8, 1940 
Memorandum to the Staff, "Bibliographies," October 31, 1939 



xvi Author's Preface 

ments in this book are made in a conjectural form and based on personal 
observations, these observations are often made by Sterner or by both 
Sterner and myself. 

Arnold Rose has prepared drafts for Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 on problems 
connected with race and population, Chapter 22 on the present political 
scene, Chapter 29 on the patterns of discrimination, Chapters 41 and 42 on 
church and education, and Appendices 4, 7 and 8. He has also prepared 
drafts for many sections of other chapters. For still other chapters he has 
assembled data and filled in gaps. For the final formulation of the main 
methodological analysis in Appendix 2 on facts and values in social science, 
his contribution has been of great importance. He has read the manuscripts 
of all parts and edited them. His editing work has included much more 
than polishing the English. It has, rather, been a most conscientious check- 
ing of basic data as well as of inferences, and a critical consideration of 
arrangement, viewpoints and conclusions. Both his criticisms and sugges- 
tions have, with few exceptions, led to changes in the final manuscript, and 
many of these changes are important. His wide knowledge of the social 
science literature and his sound judgment on methodological problems 
have, in this critical work, been significant. When I delivered the manu- 
script and departed from America, there was still a great deal of checking 
to be done and gaps to be filled in for which he was responsible, as well 
as for the proof reading. He also had to write Chapters 43 and 44, on the 
Negro community and culture, and Sections 1 and 4 of Appendix 10. For 
the present form of these two chapters and the appendix, Rose is himself 
responsible. 

About the contributions of both Sterner and Rose I want to add the 
following. The size of the book, and still more the scope of the problems 
involved, will make it understandable even to the reader who is not him- 
self familiar with many of the specific fields, that the work done has been 
immense. We have had to dig deep into primary sources in many fields 
of social science and a major part of this digging has been done by them. 
The collaboration, which stretched ruthlessly over evenings and weekends, 
has been a sheer pleasure to me, as I have felt more than I have ever 
experienced before the stimulation of an ideal cooperation where we not 
only added together the results of our labor but imagined that we in our 
concerted endeavors sometimes reached higher than an arithmetical sum. 
A similar outlook on the methodological problems of social science and a 
mutually shared scientific curiosity in seeing our structure of hypothesis, 
data, and conclusion rise, have given to our collaboration a spirit of intel- 
lectual exploration which I will not soon forget. 

To Miss Ruth Moulik, who has been our secretary and who will con- 
tinue to stay with the book until it has come through the press, we are 
grateful for her skill and great devotion. Besides the responsibility for 



Author's Preface xvii 

the office and, particularly, for the typing and checking of the manuscript, 
she has helped us by statistical computations, by digging up sources in the 
library, by checking statistical data and quotations, and in many other ways. 

In the last, hectic stage of the study, from September through December, 
1942, Caroline Baer Rose was a member of the little group of three who 
had to carry on after Sterner and I departed for Sweden. She worked 
unselfishly through all hours, including evenings and weekends, and 
brought to the study her frank personality and broad background. She 
assisted Mr. Rose in checking data and filling in gaps and was especially 
helpful in doing these things on the economics part. She also wrote the 
first draft of Chapter 44, Section 4, on "Recreation." 

Before making my final revision of the manuscript I have had the 
invaluable help of having it read critically and carefully by two friends 
who are at the same time outstanding social scientists with a great familiarity 
with the problems treated in the book: Professors E. Franklin Frazier of 
Howard University and Louis Wirth of the University of Chicago. They 
have not spared any effort, and as a result I have had their criticisms and 
suggestions often from page to page, referring to everything from the 
syntax and the arrangement of chapters and appendices to fundamental 
problems of approach and to conclusions. In my revision nearly every 
point raised by them has caused omissions, additions, rearrangements, 
clarifications or other alterations. Paul H. Norgren has read Appendix 6 
and a first draft of Chapter 19. Gunnar Lange has read Chapters 10 to 12 
and a first draft of Chapter 18. The final manuscript has benefited by their 
criticism. Alva Myrdal has read various chapters; her criticism of Appendix 
1 and Chapter 41 on Negro education has been particularly valuable. 

The relation of the study to the Carnegie Corporation of New York 
must be accounted for. The study has an unusual character as it was not 
initiated by any individual scholar or academic institution but sponsored 
by the Carnegie Corporation itself and, in a sense, carried out within the 
Corporation. The general plan that a number of American experts should 
be asked to collaborate by preparing research monographs while the director 
himself should write a final report, was also developed by the Corporation. 
All decisions on practical and financial matters have been taken on the 
responsibility of the Corporation. The Trustees of the Corporation have 
been most generous and prompt in appropriating necessary funds for the 
study. 

Mr. Keppel has had to keep in closer touch with the progress of the 
work than is usual when a study is sponsored by an outside institution. No 
conventional words of appreciation can express what his unfailing personal 
interest in the project has meant in upholding the courage of the present 
author throughout his tribulations. Charles Dollard, the Assistant to the 
President of the Carnegie Corporation, has followed the work in all its 



xviii v Author's Preface 

practical details and has, with Keppel, contributed most in terms of moral 
support and advice. Both Keppel and Dollard have read the manuscript 
and given me their criticisms and suggestions, which have been very 
valuable. 
For the content of the book, I am solely responsible. 

The scope and main direction of this book will be explained in the 
"Introduction." There are, however, some few notes of a more personal 
character for which the proper place is at the close of this preface. To 
invite a foreigner — someone "in a nonimperialistic country with no back- 
ground of domination of one race over another" who, presumably "would 
approach the situation with an entirely fresh mind"; I am here again 
quoting Keppel's first letter, August 12, 1937 — to review the most serious 
race problem in the country, is an idea singularly American. In any other 
country such a proposal would have been defeated by afterthoughts of 
practical and political expediency. Many will deem it a foolish idea. But 
. more fundamentally it is a new demonstration, in a minor matter, of 
American moralism, rationalism, and optimism — and a demonstration of 
America's unfailing conviction of its basic soundness and strength. Early 
in the course of this work, when I had found out the seriousness of the 
task before me, I proposed to Mr. Keppel that a committee be formed of 
a Southern white, a Northern white, and a Negro. In such a group we 
could have allowed for political considerations and worked out a basis for 
practical understanding, to which each one could have subscribed, since the 
representation of different viewpoints would have accounted for the intel- 
lectual compromises involved. This was, however, not at all what he 
wanted. He told me that everyone would generously help and advise me — 
and there he proved right — but that I would have to find out for myself, 
and upon my own responsibility, the truth in the- matter without any side 
glances as to what was politically desirable and expedient. 

This book is the result. Let it be added at once that the author does not 
have any pretension of having produced the definitive statement of the 
Negro problem in America. The problem is too big and too complicated, 
and also things are rapidly changing while one writes. Time has, as always, 
been a limitation. When I now leave the work, I know that many chapters 
could be improved. But apart from such shortcomings, there is a more basic 
relativism which the reader should keep in mind. Things look different, 
defending ufon "where you stand" as the American expression runs. The 
author fully realizes, and hopes the reader will remember, that he has 
never been subject to the strains involved in living in a black : white society 
and never has had to become adjusted to such a situation — and that this 
condition was the very reason why he was asked to undertake the work. 
He was requested to see things as a stranger. Indeed, he was asked to be 



Author's Preface joe 

both the subject and the object of a cultural experiment in the field of social 
science. 

As he, in this problem — to which he previously had given hardly a 
thought — was nearly stripped of all the familiar and conventional moorings 
of viewpoints and valuations, he had to construct for himself a system of 
coordinates. He found this in the American ideals of equality and liberty. 
Being a stranger to the problem, he has had perhaps a greater awareness 
of the extent to which human valuations everywhere enter into our scientific 
discussion of the Negro problem. In two appendices on valuations, beliefs, 
and facts he has attempted to clear the methodological ground for a 
scientific approach which keeps the valuations explicit and hinders them 
from going underground in the form of biases distorting the facts. And he 
has followed the rule all through the book of inserting the terms "the 
American Creed" and "value premise" and of specifying those value 
premises and printing them in italics. The reader will be less irritated by 
their repetition if he understands that these terms are placed as signs of 
warning to the reader and to the writer alike: the search for scientific 
knowledge and the drawing of practical conclusions are dependent upon 
valuations as well as upon facts. 

When, in this way, the data on the American Negro problem are mar- 
shaled under the high ideals of the American Creed, the fact must be faced 
that the result is rather dark. Indeed, as will be pointed out in the first 
chapter, the Negro problem in America represents a moral lag in the 
development of the nation and a study of it must record nearly everything 
which is bad and wrong in America. The reading of this book must be 
somewhat of an ordeal to the good citizen. I do not know if it can be 
offered as a consolation that the writing of the book, for much the same 
reason, has been an ordeal to the author who loves and admires America 
next to his own country — and does it even more sincerely after having had 
to become an expert on American imperfections. To a scholar a work is 
always something of a fate. His personal controls are diminutive; he is 
in the hands of the facts, of his professional standards, and of the funda- 
mental approach chosen. 

If this book gives a more complete record than is up to now available 
of American shortcomings in this field, I hope, however, that it also 
accounts more completely for the mutability in relations, the hope for 
great improvement in the near future and, particularly, the dominant role 
of ideals in the social dynamics of America. When looking back over the 
long manuscript, one main conclusion — which should be stressed here since 
it cannot be reiterated through the whole book — is this: that not since 
Reconstruction has there been more reason to anticipate fundamental 
changes in American race relations, changes which will involve a develop- 
ment toward the American ideals. 



xx Author's Preface 

To the friends, colleagues, experts, and administrators of both races who 
have been helpful to me in the course of this study, 1 want to say plainly 
that in a job of this kind the attempt to be completely honest involves the 
author in the risk of losing friends. If this does not happen in the present 
instance, I shall ascribe this to the singular American magnanimity which 
is demonstrated in the very initiative of calling for this study. 

GUNNAR MYRDAL 

Stockholm, October, 1942 
University of Stockholm 



Acknowledgments 



Permission has been granted by the following publishers to quote from 
the copyright material listed below. The place and date of publication will 
be found in the Bibliography. 
American Council on Education: 

Children of Bondage by Allison Davis and John Dollard. 

Color, Class, and Personality by Robert L. Sutherland. 

Color and Human Nature by W. Lloyd Warner, Buford H. Junker 
and Walter A. Adams. 

Growing up in the Black Belt by Charles S. Johnson. 

Negro Youth at the Crossways by E. Franklin Frazier. 
D. Appleton-Century Company: 

Below the Potomac by Virginius Dabney. 

Race Distinctions in American Law, by Gilbert T. Stephenson. 
Albert and Charles Boni: 

The New Negro edited by Alain Locke. 
The Atlanta University Press: 

Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans edited by W. E. B. 
Du Bois. 
Chapman & Grimes, Inc.: 

The Negro's God by Benjamin E. Mays. 
Chapman & Hall, Ltd. (London) : 

Through Afro-America by William Archer. 
The University of Chicago Press: 

The Biology of the Negro by Julian H. Lewis. 

Deep South by Allison Davis, Burleigh B. Gardner and Mary R. Gard- 
ner. 

The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South by Bertram Wilbur Doyle. 

Introduction to the Science of Sociology by Robert E. Park and Ernest 
W. Burgess. 

Negro Politicians by Harold F. Gosnell. 

The Negro Press in the United States by Frederick G. Detweiler. 

Shadow of the Plantation by Charles S. Johnson. , 
The Clarendon Press (Oxford) : 

The Relations of the Advanced and Backward Races of Mankind by 
James Bryce. 



jorii Acknowledgments 

The Cleveland Foundation: 

Criminal Justice in the American City — A Summary by Roscoe Pound. 
Columbia University Press: 

American Caste and the Negro College by Buell G. Gallagher. 

The Anthropometry of the American Negro by Melville J. Herskovits. 
The John Day Company and David Lloyd, agent: 

American Unity and Asia, copyright 1942, by Pearl S. Buck. 
R. S. Crofts & Co.: 

The Roots of American Civilization by Curtis P. Nettels. 
Doubleday, Doran and Company: 

Booker T. Washington by Emmett J. Scott and Lyman Beecher Stowe. 

Following the Colour Line by Ray Stannard Baker. 

Penrod by Booth Tarkington. 

The Story of the Negro by Booker T. Washington. 

Studies in the American Race Problem by Alfred H. Stone. 

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. 

What the Negro Thinks by Robert R. Moton. 
Duke University Press: 

Race Relations and the Race Problem edited by Edgar T. Thompson. 
Lee Furman, Inc.: 

A Long Way From Home by Claude McKay. 
University of Georgia Press: 

What Negro Newspapers of Georgia Say About Some Social Problems 
by Rollin Chambliss. 
Ginn and Company: 

The Basis of Racial Adjustment by Thomas J. Woofter, Jr. 

Folkways by William Sumner. 
Harcourt, Brace and Company: 

Black Reconstruction by W. E. B. Du Bois. 

Darkwater by W. E. B. Du Bois. 

Dusk of Dawn by W. E. B. Du Bois. 

Main Currents of American Thought by Vernon L. Parrington. 
Harper & Brothers: 

American Minority Peoples by Donald R. Young. 

Divine White Right by Trevor Bowen. 

The Negro's Church by Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson. 

Negro Problems in Cities by Thomas J. Woofter, Jr. and Associates. 

Preface to Eugenics by Frederick Osborn. 

The Story of a Pioneer by Anna Howard Shaw. 

We Europeans by Julian S. Huxley and A. A. Haddon. 
Harvard University— Peabody Museum: 

Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States by Caroline 
Bond Day. 



Acknowledgments xxui 

Harvard University Press: 

Population: A Problem For Democracy by Gunnar Myrdal. Reprinted 
by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. 
Hastings House and Hampton Institute: 

The Negro in Virginia prepared by the Federal Writers' Project. 
D. C. Heath and Company: 

Race Relations by Willis D. Weatherford and Charles S. Johnson. 
Henry Holt and Company: 

American Regionalism by Howard W. Odum and Harry E. Moore. 

Black Yeomanry by Thomas J. Woofter, Jr. 

The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner. 

The Negro in American Civilization by Charles S. Johnson. 

Planning for America by George B. Galloway and Associates. 
The Johns Hopkins Press: 

The Industrial Revolution in the South by Broadus Mitchell and George 
S. Mitchell. 
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.: 

The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson. 

Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson. 

The Mind of the South by Wilbur J. Cash. 

The Racial Basis of Civilization by Frank H. Hankins. 
Little, Brown & Company: 

The Road to Reunion by Paul H. Buck. 
Little, Brown & Company and Atlantic Monthly Press: 

The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams. 
Longmans, Green and Co., Inc. : 

The Basis of Ascendancy by Edgar Gardner Murphy. 

Problems of the Present South by Edgar Gardner Murphy. 
A. C. McClurg&Co.: 

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois. 
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.: 

Race Mixture by E. B. Reuter. 
The Macmillan Company: 

The American Commonwealth by James Bryce. 

Democracy and Race Friction by John M. Mecklin. 

The Mind of Primitive Man by Franz Boas. 

Race Questions by Josiah Royce. 

Studies in the Theory of Human Society by Franklin H. Giddings. 
Julian Messner, Inc.: 

Sinful Cities of the Western World by Hendrik De Leeuw. 
Methuen and Company, Ltd. (London) : 

The Negro in the New World by Sir Harry Johnston. 



xxiv Acknowledgments 

The University of North Carolina Press: 

The Collapse of Cotton Tenancy by Charles S. Johnson, Edwin R. 
Embree and W. W. Alexander. 

The Legal Status of the Negro by Charles S. Mangum, Jr. 

Liberalism in the South by Virginius Dabney. 

Human Geography of the South by Rupert B. Vance. 

The Negro College Graduate by Charles S. Johnson. 

Preface to Peasantry by Arthur F. Raper. 

Tar-Heel Editor by Josephus Daniels. 
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 

American Faith by Ernest Sutherland Bates. 
The Oxford University Press: 

American Farmers in the World Crisis by Carl T. Schmidt. 

Race, Class and Party by Paul Lewinson. 
The University of Pennsylvania Press: 

The Philadelphia Negro by W. E. B. Du Bois. 
G. P. Putnam's Sons: 

Darker Phases of the South by Frank Tannenbaum. 

Freedom and Culture by John Dewey. 
The Ronald Press Company: 

The Course of American Democratic Thought by Ralph H. Gabriel. 
Russell Sage Foundation: 

"Youth Programs" by M. M. Chambers in the Social Work Year Book, 
104 1 edited by Russell H. Kurtz. 
Charles Scribner's Sons: 

America's Tragedy by James Truslow Adams. 

Heredity and Human Affairs by Edward M. East. 

The Marginal Man by Everett V. Stonequist. 

The Negro: The Southerner's Problem by Thomas Nelson Page. 

The Negro Question by George W. Cable. 

The Old South by Thomas J. Wertenbaker. 

The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. 

The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy by Lothrop 
Stoddard. 
The Twentieth Century Fund: 

Facing the Tax Problem. 
The Viking Press: 

Along This Way, copyright 1933 by James Weldon Johnson. 

After Freedom, copyright 1939 by Hortense Powdermaker. 

Alien Americans by B. Schrieke, copyright 1936.. 

Brown America by Edwin R. Embree, copyright 1931. 

Negro Americam; What Now?, copyright 1934 by James Wejdon 
Johnson. 



Acknowledgments xxv 

University of Virginia: 

Negro Crime in a Small Urban Community by Robert M. Lightfoot. 
Yale University Press: 

Caste and Class in a Southern Town by John Dollard. 

Essays of William Graham Sumner edited by Albert G. Keller and 
Maurice R. Davie. 

New Haven Negroes by Robert Austin Warner. 

Social Life of a Modern Community by W. Lloyd Warner and Paul S. 
Lunt. 
Xavier University: 

The Negro in Louisiana by Charles B. Roussevc. 



CONTENTS 



Foreword, by Frederick P. Keppel v 

Author's Preface ix 

Introduction xli 

i . The Negro Problem as a Moral Issue 

2. Valuations and Beliefs 

3. A White Man's Problem 

4. Not an Isolated Problem 

5. Some Further Notes on the Scope and Direction of This 

Study 

6. A Warning to the Reader 

PART I. THE APPROACH 

Chapter 1. American Ideals and the American Conscience 3 

1 . Unity of Ideals and Diversity of Culture 

2. American Nationalism 

3. Some Historical Reflections 

4. The Roots of the American Creed in the Philosophy of 

Enlightenment 

5. The Roots in Christianity 

6. The Roots in English Law 

7. American Conservatism 

3. The American Conception of Law and Order 
9. Natural Law and American Puritanism 

10. The Faltering Judicial Order 

11. Intellectual Defeatism 

12. "Lip-Service" 

13. Value Premises in This Study 

Chapter 1. Encountering the Negro Problem 26 

1. On the Minds of the Whites 

2. To the Negroes Themselves 

3. Explaining the Problem Away 

4. Explorations in Escape 

c. The Etiquette of Discussion 
6. The Convenience of Ignorance 

J. Negro and White Voices 
. The North and the South 

xrril 



xxviii Contents 

Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 50 

1. American Minority Problems 

2. The Anti-Amalgamation Doctrine 

3. The White Man's Theory of Color Caste 

4. The "Rank Order of Discriminations" 

5. Relationships between Lower Class Groups 

6. The Manifoldness and the Unity of the Negro Problem 

7. The Theory of the Vicious Circle 

8. A Theory of Democracy 

PART II. RACE 

Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 83 

1. Biology and Moral Equalitarianism 

2. The Ideological Clash in America 

3. The Ideological Compromise 

4. Reflections in Science 

5. The Position of the Negro Writers 

6. The Racial Beliefs of the Unsophisticated 

7. Beliefs with a Purpose 

8. Specific Rationalization Needs 

9. Rectifying Beliefs 
10. The Study of Beliefs 

Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 1 13 

1. The American Definition of "Negro" 

2. African Ancestry 

3. Changes in Physical Appearance 

4. Early Miscegenation 

5. Ante-Bellum Miscegenation 

6. Miscegenation in Recent Times 

7. "Passing" 

8. Social and Biological Selection 

9. Present and Future Genetic Composition Trends 

Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 137 

i. Physical Traits 

2. Biological Susceptibility to Disease 

3. Psychic Traits 

4. Frontiers of Constructive Research 

PART III. POPULATION AND MIGRATION 

Chapter 7. Population 157 

1. The Growth of the Negro Population 

2. Births and Deaths 

3. Summary 

4. Ends and Means of Population Policy 

5. Controlling the Death Rate 



Contents mox 

6. The Case for Controlling the Negro Birth Rate 

7. Birth Control Facilities Tor Negroes 

Chapter 8. Migration 182 

1. Overview 

2. A Closer View 

3. The Great Migration to the Urban North 

4. Continued Northward Migration 

5. The Future of Negro Migration 

PART IV. ECONOMICS 

Chapter 9*. Economic Inequality 205 

1. Negro Poverty 

2. Our Main Hypothesis: The Vicious Circle 

3. The Value Premises 

4. The Conflict of Valuations 

Chapter 10- The Tradition of Slavery 220 

1. Economic Exploitation 

2. Slavery and Caste 

3. The Land Problem 

4. The Tenancy Problem 

Chapter 11.. The Southern Plantation Economy and the Negro 

Farmer 230 

1. Southern Agriculture as a Problem 

2. Overpopulation and Soil Erosion 

3. Tenancy, Credit and Cotton 

4. The Boll Weevil 

5. Main Agricultural Classes 

6. The Negro Landowner 

7. Historical Reasons for the Relative Lack of Negro Farm Owners 

8. Tenants and Wage Laborers 

9. The Plantation 1 enant 

Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture During the 

'Thirties: Trends and Policies 251 

1. Agricultural Trends during the 'Thirties 

2. The Disappearing Sharecropper 

3. The Role of the A.A.A. in Regard to Cotton 

4. A.A.A. and the Negro 

5. The Local Administration of the A.A.A. 

6. Mechanization 

7. Labor Organizations 

8. The Dilemma of Agricultural Policy 

9. Economic Evaluation of the A.A.A. 

10. Social Evaluation of the A.A.A. 

11. Constructive Measures 

12. Farm Security Programs 



xsx Contents 

Chapter jy^Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 279 

1. Perspective on the Urbanization of the Negro People 

2. In the South 

3. A Closer View 

4. Southern Trends during the 'Thirties > 

5. In the North 

6. A Closer View on Northern Trends 

J. The Employment Hazards of Unskilled Work 
. The Size of the Negro Labor Force and Negro Employment 
9. Negro and White Unemployment 

Chapter 14. The Negro in Business, the Professions, Public 

Service and Other White Collar Occupations 304 

1. Overview 
a. The Negro in Business 

3. Negro Finance 

4. The Negro Teacher 

5. The Negro Minister 

0. The Negro in Medical Professions 

J. Other Negro Professionals 
. Negro Officials and White Collar Workers in Public Service 
9. Negro Professionals oi the Stage, Screen and Orchestra 
10. Note on Shady Occupations 

Chapter 15, The Negro in the Public Economy 233 

1. The Public Budget 

2. Discrimination in Public Service 

3. Education 

4. Public Health 

5. Recreational Facilities 

6. Public Housing Policies 

7. Social Security and Public Assistance 

8. Specialized Social Welfare Programs during the Period After 



heSc 



9. The Social Security Program 

10. Assistance to Special Groups 

11. Work Relief 

12. Assistance to Youth 

13. General Relief and Assistance in Kind 

Chapter 16, Income, Consumption and Housing 364 

1. Family Income 

2. Income and Family Size 

3. The Family Budget 

4. Budget Items 

k. Fooof Consumption 
6. Housing Conditions 

Chapter vj^'The Mechanics of Economic Discrimination as a 

Practital Problem 380 

1. The Practical Problem 

2. The Ignorance and Lack of Concern of Northern Whites 



Contents xxari 

3. Migration Policy 

4. The Regular Industrial Labor Market in the North 
s. The Problem of Vocational Training 

6. The Self-Perpetuating Color Bar 

7. A Position or "Indifferent Equilibrium" 

8. In the South 

Chapter 18. Pre-JVar Labor Market Controls and Their Conse- 
quences for the Negro 397 

1. The Wages and Hours Law and the Dilemma of the Marginal 

Worker 
a. Other Economic Policies 

3. Labor Unions and the Negro 

4. A Weak Movement Getting Strong Powers 

Chapter 19. The War Boom — and Thereafter 409 

1. The Negro Wage Earner and the War Boom 
1. A Closer View 

3. Government Policy in Regard to the Negro in War Production 

4. The Negro in the Armed Forces 

5. . . . And Afterwards? 

PART V. POLITICS 

Chapter 20. Underlying Factors 429 

1. The Negro in American Politics and as a Political Issue 

2. The Wave of Democracy and the Need for Bureaucracy 

3. The North and the South 

4. The Southern Defense Ideology 

5. The Reconstruction Amendments 

6. Memories of Reconstruction 

7. The Tradition of Illegality 

Chapter 21. Southern Conservatism and Liberalism 452 

1. The. "Solid South" 

2. Southern Conservatism 

3. Is the South Fascist? 

4. The Changing South 

5. Southern Liberalism 

Chapter 22. Political Practices Today 474 

1. The Southern Political Scene 

2. Southern Techniques for Disfranchising the Negroes 

3. The Negro Vote m the South 

4. The Negro in Northern Politics 

5. What the Neero Gets Out of Politics 

Chapter 23. Trends and Possibilities 505 

1. The Negro's Political Bargaining Power 

2. The Negro's Party Allegiance 



joorii Contents 

3. Nemo Suffrage in the South as an Issue 

4. An Unstable Situation 

f. The Stake of the North 
. Practical Conclusions 

PART VI. JUSTICE 

Chapter 24. Inequality of Justice 5*3 

1. Democracy and Justice 

2. Relative Equality in the North 

3. The Southern Heritage 

Chapter 25. The Police and Other Public Contacts 535 

1. Local Petty Officials 

2. The Southern Policeman 

3. The Policeman in the Negro Neighborhood 

4. Trends and Outlook 

5. Another Type of Public Contact 

Chapter 26. Courts , Sentences and Prisons 547 

1 . The Southern Courts 
a. Discrimination in Court 

3. Sentences and Prisons 

4. Trends and Outlook 

Chapter 27. Violence and Intimidation 558 

1 . The Pattern of Violence 
a. Lynching 

3. The Psychopathology of Lynching 

4. Trends and Outlook 

5. Riots 

PART VII. SOCIAL INEQUALITY 
Chapter 28 v The Basis of Social Inequality 573 

1. The Value Premise 

a. The One-Sidedness of the System of Segregation 

3. The Beginning in Slavery 

4. The Jim Crow Laws 

k. Beliefs Supporting Social Inequality 

6. The Popular Theory of "No Social Equality" 

7. Critical Evaluation of the "No Social Equality" Theory 

8. Attitudes among Different Classes of Whites in the South 

9. Social Segregation and Discrimination in the North 

Chapter 0.%, Patterns of Social Segregation and Discrimination 605 

1. Facts and Beliefs Regarding Segregation and Discrimination 

2. Segregation and Discrimination in interpersonal Relations 

3. Housing Segregation 



Contents xxxiii 

4. Sanctions for Residential Segregation 

5. The General Character of Institutional Segregation 

6. Segregation in Specific Types of Institutions 

Chapter ^Ov/Tiff ects of Social Inequality 640 

1. The Incidence of Social Inequality 

2. Increasing Isolation 

3. Interracial Contacts 

4. The Factor of Ignorance 
<. Present Dynamics 

PART VIII. SOCIAL STRATIFICATION 

Chapter i*,/Caste and Class 667 

i. The Concepts "Caste" and "Class" 

2. The "Meaning" of the Concepts "Caste" and "Class" 

3. The Caste Struggle 

4. Crossing the Caste Line 

Chapter 32. The Negro Class Structure 689 

1. The Negro Class Order in the American Caste System 

2. Caste Determines Class 

3. Color and Class 

4. The Classes in the Negro Community 

PART IX. LEADERSHIP AND CONCERTED ACTION 

Chapter 33. The American Pattern 0/ Individual Leadership 

and Mass Passivity 709 

1. "Intelligent Leadership" 

2. "Community Leaders" 

3. Mass Passivity 

4. The Patterns Exemplified in Politics and throughout the 

American Social Structure 

Chapter 34. Accommodating Leadership 720 

1. leadership and Caste 

2. The Interests of Whites and Negroes with Respect to Negro 

I leadership 

3. In the North and on the National Scene 

4. The "Glass Plate" 

5. Accommodating Leadership and Class 

6. Several Qualifications 

7. Accommodating Leaders in the North 

8. The Glamour Personalities 

Chapter 35. The Negro Protest 7,6 

1 . The Slave Revolts 



xxxiv Contents 

a. The Negro Abolitionists and Reconstruction Politicians 

3. The Tuskegee Compromise 

4. The Spirit of Niagara and Harper's Ferry 

5. The Protest Is Still Rising 

6. The Shock of the First World War and the Post- War Crisis 

7. The Garvey Movement 

8. Post- War Radicalism among Negro Intellectuals 

9. Negro History and Culture 

10. The Great Depression and the Second W T or!d War 

Chapter 36. The Protest Motive and Negro Personality 757 

1. A Mental Reservation 

2. The Struggle Against Defeatism 

3. The Struggle for Balance 

4. Negro Sensitiveness 

5. Negro Aggression 

6. Upper Class Reactions 

7. The "Function" of Racial Solidarity 

Chapter 37. Compromise Leadership 768 

1. The Daily Compromise 

2. The Vulnerability of the Negro Leader 

3. Impersonal Motives 

4. The Protest Motive 

5. The Double Role 

6. Negro Leadership Techniques 

7. Moral Consequences 

8. Leadership Rivalry 

9. Qualifications 

10. In Southern Cities 

11. In the North 

12. On the National Scene 

Chapter 38. Negro Popular Theories 781 

1. Instability 

2. Negro Provincialism 

3. The Thinking on the Negro Problem 

4. Courting the "Best People Among the Whites" 

5. The Doctrine of Labor Solidarity 

6. Some Critical Observations 

7. The Pragmatic "Truth" of the Labor Solidarity Doctrine 

8. "The Advantages of the Disadvantages" 

9. Condoning Segregation 

10. Boosting Negro Business 

11. Criticism of Negro Business Chauvinism 
ia v "Back to Africa" 

■■' 13." Miscellaneous Ideologies 

Chapter 39. 'Negro Improvement and Protest Organizations 8io 

1. A General American Pattern 



Contents xxxv 

i. Nationalist Movements 

3. Business and Professional Organizations 

4. The National Negro Congress Movement 

c. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored 
'People 

6. the N.A.A.C.P. Branches 

7. The N.A.A.C.P. National Office 

8. The Strategy of the N.A.A.C.P. 

0. Critique of the N.A.A.C.P. 

10. The Urban League 

11. The Commission on Interracial Cooperation 

12. The Negro Organizations during the War 

13. Negro Strategy 

Chapter 40. The Negro Church 858 

1. Non-Political Agencies for Negro Concerted Action 

2. Some Historical Notes 

3. The Negro Church and the General American Pattern of 

Religious Activity 

4. A Segregated Church 

5. Its Weakness 

6. Trends and Outlook 

Chapter 41. The Negro School 879 

1 . Negro Education as Concerted Action 

2. Education in American Thought and Life 

3. The Development of Negro Education in the South 

4. The Whites' Attitudes toward Negro Education 

5. "Industrial" versus "Classical" Education of Negroes 

6. Negro Attitudes 

7. Trends and Problems 

Chapter 42. The Negro Press 908 

1. An Organ for the Negro Protest 

2. The Growth of the Negro Press 

3. Characteristics of the Negro Press 

4. The Controls of the Negro Press 

5. Outlook 

PART X. THE NEGRO COMMUNITY 
Chapter 43. Institutions 927 

1. The Negro Community as a Pathological Form of an American 

Community 

2. The Negro Family 

3. The Negro Church in the Negro Community 

4. The Negro School and Negro Education 

5. Voluntary Associations 



xxxvi Contents 

Chapter 44. Non-Institutional Aspects of the Negro Community 956 

1. "Peculiarities" of Negro Culture and Personality 

2. Crime 

3. Mental Disorders and Suicide 

4. Recreation 

5. Negro Achievements 

PART XI. AN AMERICAN DILEMMA 

Chapter 45. America Again at the Crossroads in the Negro 

Problem 997 

1. The Negro Problem and the War 

2. Social Trends 

3. The Decay of the Caste Theory 

4. Negroes in the War Crisis 

5. The War and the Whites 

6. The North Moves Toward Equality 

7. Tension in the South 

8. International Aspects 

9. Making the Peace 

10. America's Opportunity 

Appendix 1. A Methodological Note on Valuations and Beliefs 1027 

1. The Mechanism of Rationalization 

2. Theoretical Critique of the Concept "Mores" 

3. Valuation Dynamics 

Appendix 2. A Methodological Note on Facts and Valuations in 

Social Science ro3 5 

1. Biases in the Research on the American Negro Problem 

2. Methods of Mitigating Biases in Social Science 

3. The History and Logic of the Hidden Valuations in Social 

Science 

4. The Points of View Adopted in This Book 

Appendix 3. A Methodological Note on the Principle of Cumula- 
tion 1065 

Appendix 4. Note on the Meaning of Regional Terms as Used in 

This Book 1 07 1 

Appendix 5. A Parallel to the Negro Problem 1073 

Appendix 6. Pre-lf'ar Conditions of the Negro Wage Earner in 

Selected Industries and Occupations 1079 

1. General Characteristics of Negro Jobs 



Contents xxxvii 

2. Domestic Service 

3. Other Service Occupations 

4. Turpentine Farms 

5. Lumber 

0. The Fertilizer Industry 

7. Longshore Work. 

8. Building Workers 

9. Railroad Workers 

10. Tobacco Workers 

1 1 . Textile Workers 

12. Coal Miners 

13. Iron and Steel Workers 

14. Automobile Workers 

15. The Slaughtering and Meat Packing Industry 

Appendix 7. Distribution of Negro Residences in Selected Cities 1125 
Appendix 8. Research on Caste and Class in a Negro Community 1129 
Appendix 9. Research on Negro Leadership 1 1 33 

Appendix 10. Quantitative Studies of Race Attitudes 1136 

1. Kxisting Studies of Race Attitudes 

2. The Kmpirical Study of Valuations and Beliefs 

3. "Personal" and "Political" Opinions 

4. The Practical Study of Race Prejudice 

List of Rooks, Pamphlets, Periodicals, and Other Material Re- 
ferred to in This Hook 1 144 

Numbered Footnotes 1 181 

Index 1 44 1 



LIST OF TABLES 



Chapter j 

Table t. Carey's Estimates of the Number of Slaves 
Imported into the United States at Various Time 
Periods 118 

Footnote 59. Comparison of Variabilities of the American 
Negro Population with the American White 
Population and with the West African Negro 
Population in Twenty-three Selected Traits 1211 

Chapter J 

Table 1. Net Reproduction Rates by Color and Urban- 
Rural Residence, for the United States, by 
Regions: 1930 and 1940 160 

Footnote 24. Net Reproduction Rates in Southern Regions: 

1940 1222 

Chapter 11 

Table 1. Negro and White Agricultural Workers in the 

South, by Tenure: 1930 236 

Chapter 12 

Table 1. Number of Farm Operators in the South, by 

Tenure and Color: 1930, 1935, and 1940 253 

Footnote 3. Index Numbers for Gross Cash Income from 

Marketings 1 244 

Footnote 13. Counties in Selected Southern States by Increase 
or Decrease in Number of Colored and White 
Owners, Tenants (Other Than Croppers), and 
Croppers: 1930- 193 5 1246 

Footnote 2>Z- Number of Motor Trucks and Tractors on. 

Farms: 1930 and 1940 1248 

Chapter /j 

Table 1. Number of All Male Workers and of Negro Male 
Workers in Nonagricultural Pursuits, by Section: 
1 890-1930 285 

Table 1. Changes in Population and in Male Labor Force 
in Selected Northern and Southern Cities: 1930- 
1940 288 



xl List of Tables 

Table 3. Number and Proportion of Nonwhite Workers in 
Selected Industries, 1940; and Negroes as a Per- 
centage of the Gainful Workers, 1930 — in the 
South 290 

Table 4. Negro and W T hite Male Workers in Nonagri- 
cultural Pursuits by Social-Economic Status, in 
the North and in the South: 1930 296 

Table 5. Total Persons and Labor Force in Nonfarm Areas 
of the United States, by Employment Status, Sex, 
and Race: 1940 298 

Table 6. Labor Force as a Percentage of All Persons, 14 
Years of Age and Over, and Unemployed Workers 
as a Percentage of Total Labor Force, in Selected 
Large Cities, by Sex and Race: 1940 300 

Chapter 14 

Table 1. Negro Workers in Business, Professional, and 
White Collar Occupations, by Sex: 1910, 1920, 
and 1930 306 

Table 2. Number of Negro Entrepreneurs and White Collar 
Workers in Selected Trade and Service Industries: 
19 10 309 

Table 3. Principal Groups of Negro Professional Workers: 

1910 and 1930 319 

Chapter 13 

Footnote 19. Median Expenditure for Teachers' Salaries in 
Counties with Specified Proportion of Negroes in 
the School Population, Aged 5-19: 1930-1931 1271 

Footnote 57. "Paupers" in Almshouses in 1890 1277 

Chapter 16 

Table 1. Median Incomes of Negro and Native White 

Families in Selected Cities: 1935-1936 365 

Table 2. Per Cent Distribution of Total Family Consump- 
tion Items, for Normal Nonrelief Families in 
Selected Community and Income Groups, by 
Race: 1935- 1916 369 

Table 3. Percentage of Normal Nonrelief Families Who 
During a Survey Period of One Week in 1936 
Failed to Consume Specified Foods 372 

Table 4. Average Value (in Cents) per Meal per Food- 
Expenditure-Unit in Small and Large Normal 
Nonrelief Families, by Race 374 

Table 5. Diets of Normal Nonrelief Negro and White 
Families in the Southeast Classified by Grade: 
I936-J937 375 



List of Tables xli 

Table 6. Percentage of Urban Families Showing Various 
Degrees of Crowding, by Region and Race: 

I93.v>93" " ' . 378 

Footnote 1. Median Incomes for Negro and White Farm 
Families in Three Southeastern Sample Areas: 

1935-193" . ... 1284 

Footnote 34. Percentage of Negro and White Families in the 
Southeast with Diets Furnishing Less than 
Optimum Requirements of Specified Nutrients: 

1936- 1 937 1290 

Footnote 40. Large Families Living in Homes with More Than 
1.5 Person per Room as a Percentage of All Large 
Farm Families, by Color and Tenure: 1935 1936 1291 



Chapter iS 
Footnote 4. 



Chapter iq 
Footnote 1. 



Chapter <?.? 

Table 1. 



Chapter 40 

Table 1. 

Chapter 43 

Table 1. 



Percentage Increase in Number of Wage Earners 
in Virginia Manufacturing Industries, 1930-1939; 
and Percentage of Nonwhitc Wage Karners, 
1930 1939 1296 



Percentage of Nonwhitcs in the Total Population, 
1940, am] among Recent In-migrants According to 
Surveys Made during the Latter Half of 1941, in 
Selected Cities 1301 



Per Cent of Major 1'arty Vote for Roosevelt, 1932, 
r 93". 1940, in Kach Ward Having More Than 
Half Its Population Negro, Selected Cities 



Negro Membership 
Denomination: J 930 



in Harlem Churches by 



Number and Rate of Illegitimate Births, by 
Nativity, Section and Rural-Urban Residence: 

] 93 6 . 
Table 2. Proportion Broken Families of All Families: 1930 

Table 3. School Attendance in the United States, Ages 

5-20, by Race: 18 50- 1940 
Table 4. School Attendance, Ages 7-20, by Race and 

Region: 1930 
Table 5. Years of School Completed, by Persons 25 Years 

Old and Over, by Race, for the United States, 

Rural and Urban Areas: 1940 



496 



865 



932 
934 

942 
943 

944 



xlii List of Tables 

Table 6. Ratio of Negro to White Pupils in Public Schools 

by Grades, in 18 Southern States: 1933-1934 944 

Footnote 20. Organizations and Activities of 609 Urban 

Churches 1427 

Chapter 44 

Table 1. Prisoners Received from Courts by State and 
Federal Prisons and Reformatories by Sex, Race 
and Nativity: 1939 971 

Table 2. Male Felony Prisoners Received from Courts by 
State and Federal Prisons and Reformatories, by 
Geographic Areas and by Race and Nativity: 

1939 97 1 

Table 3. Distribution of Arrests according to Race and 
Type of Offense (Excluding Those under Fifteen 
Years of Age): 1940 973 

Appendix 4 

Table 1. Various Definitions of the South 1072 

Appendix 6 

Table 1. Nonagricultural Industries and Service Groups 

Having 15,000 Negro Workers or More: 1930 1081 

Table 2. Percentage of Nonrelief White Families, in 
Selected Income Groups, Who Had Expenditure 
for Household Help: 1935-1936 1084 

Table 3. Range between Local Wage Rates for Domestic 
Work, in Selected States, according to Estimates 
by State Employment Offices: January, 1939 1085 

Table 4. Average Earnings and Hours of Work for Lumber 
Workers in the South by Type and Branch of 
Industry and by Color: 1939-19^0 1093 

Table 5. Percentage Distribution of Logging and Sawmill 
Workers by Average Hourly Earnings, by Type 
and Branch of Industry and by Color, in the 
South: 1939-^1940 1093 

Table 6. Occupations in Lumber Mills (Sawmills, Logging, 
Maintenance and Service Branches) by Average 
Hourly Earnings of White Workers, and Differ- 
ence between Average Earnings of White and 
Negro Workers, in the South: 1939-1940 1094 

Table 7. Percentage of Negroes among Longshoremen and 

Stevedores in Selected States: 1910 and 1930 1097 



LIST OF FIGURES 



Figure i. Negro Population of the United States: 1790 to 1940 158 
Figure 2. Ratio of Nonwhite to White Mortality Rates for 

Selected Causes of Death, United States: 1920-1931 173 
Figure 3. The Proportion of Negroes in the Population, by States: 

1940 184 

Figure 4. 'J he Northward Migration 192 

Figure 5. Average Size of Farm, and Average Value of Land and 

Buildings per Acre and per Farm, by Color and Tenure, 

in the South: 1920 and 1940 239 



ylm 



INTRODUCTION 



I. The Negro Problem as a Moral Issue 

There is a "Negro problem" in the United States and most Americans 
are aware of it, although it assumes varying forms and intensity in differ- 
ent regions of the country and among diverse groups of the American 
people. Americans have to react to it, politically as citizens and, where 
there are Negroes present in the community, privately as neighbors. 

To the great majority of white Americans the Negro problem has dis- 
tinctly negative connotations. It suggests something difficult to settle and 
equally difficult to leave alone. It is .embarrassing. It makes for moral 
uneasiness. The very presence of the Negro in America* j his fate in this 
country through slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction; his recent career 
and his present status; his accommodation; his protest and his aspiration; 
in fact his entire biological, historical and social existence as a participant 
American represent to the ordinary white man in the North as well as in 
the South an anomaly in the very structure of American society. To many, 
this takes on the proportion of a menace — biological, economic, social, 
cultural, and, at times, political. This anxiety may be mingled with a feel- 
ing of individual and collective guilt. A few see the problem as a chal- 
lenge to statesmanship. To all it is a trouble. 

These and many other mutually inconsistent attitudes are blended into 
none too logical a scheme which, in turn, may be quite inconsistent with 
the wider personal, moral, religious, and civic sentiments and ideas of the 
Americans. Now and then, even the least sophisticated individual becomes 
aware of his own confusion and the contradiction in his attitudes. Occasion- 
ally he may recognize, even if only for a moment, the incongruence of his 
state of mind and find it so intolerable that the whole organization of his 
moral precepts is shaken. But most people, most of the time, suppress such 
threats to their moral integrity together with all of the confusion, the 
ambiguity, and inconsistency which lurks in the basement of man's soul. 
This, however, is rarely accomplished without mental strain. Out of the 
strain comes a sense of uneasiness and awkwardness which always seems 
attached to the Negro problem. 

The strain is increased in democratic America by the freedom left open 

"The word America will be used in this book u a synonym for continental United 
States. 

xlv 



xlvi Introduction 

— even in the South,* to a considerable extent — for the advocates of the 
Negro, his rights and welfare. All "pro-Negro" forces in American society, 
whether organized or not, and irrespective of their wide differences in both 
strategy and tactics, sense that this is the situation. They all work on the 
national conscience. They all seek to fix everybody's attention on the sup- 
pressed moral conflict. No wonder that they are often regarded as public 
nuisances, or worse — even when they succeed in getting grudging conces- 
sions to Negro rights and welfare. 

At this point it must be observed that America, relative to all the other 
branches of Western civilization, is moralistic and "moral-conscious." The 
ordinary American is the opposite of a cynic. He is on the average more of 
a believer and a defender of the faith in humanity than the rest of the 
Occidentals. It is a relatively important matter to him to be true to his own 
ideals and to carry them out in actual life. We recognize the American, 
wherever we meet him, as a practical idealist. Compared with members of 
other nations of Western civilization, the ordinary American is a rational- 
istic being, and there are close relations between his moralism and his 
rationalism. Even romanticism, transcendentalism, and mysticism tend to 
be, in the American culture, rational, pragmatic and optimistic. American 
civilization early acquired a flavor of enlightenment which has affected the 
ordinary American's whole personality and especially his conception of 
how ideas and ideals ought to "click" together. He has never developed 
that particular brand of tired mysticism and romanticism which finds 
delight in the inextricable confusion in the order of things and in ineffec- 
tuality of the human mind. He finds such leanings intellectually perverse. 
These generalizations might seem venturesome and questionable to the 
reflective American himself, who, naturally enough, has his attention 
directed more on the dissimilarities than on the similarities within his 
culture. What is common is usually not obvious, and it never becomes 
striking. But to the stranger it is obvious and even striking. In the social 
sciences, for instance, the American has, more courageously than anywhere 
else on the globe, started to measure, not only human intelligence, apti- 
tudes, and personality traits, but moral leanings and the "goodness" of 
communities. This man is a rationalist; he wants intellectual order in his 
moral set-up} he wants to pursue his own inclinations into their hidden 
haunts; and he is likely to expose himself and his kind in a most undiplo- 
matic manner. 

In hasty strokes we are now depicting the essentials of the American 
ethos. This moralism and rationalism are to many of us — among them the 
author of this book — the glory of the nation, its youthful strength, perhaps 
the salvation of mankind. The analysis of this "American Creed" and its 

* The mew precise meaning of the -words, South, North, and other terms for region* in 
America wQI be explained in Appendix 4. 



Introduction xlvii 

implications have an important place in our inquiry. While on the one 
hand, to such a moralistic and rationalistic being as the ordinary American, 
the Negro problem and his own confused and contradictory attitudes 
toward it must be disturbing; on the other hand, the very mass of unsettled 
problems in his heterogeneous and changing culture, and the inherited 
liberalistic trust that things will ultimately take care of themselves and 
get settled in one way or another, enable the ordinary American to live 
on happily, with recognized contradictions around him and within him, 
in a kind of bright fatalism which is unmatched in the rest of the Western 
world. This fatalism also belongs to the national ethos. 

The American Negro frobletn is a -problem in the heart of the American. 
It is there that the interracial tension has its focus. It is there that the 
decisive struggle goes on. This is the central viewpoint of this treatise. 
Though our study includes economic, social, and political race relations, 
at bottom our problem is the moral dilemma of the American — the conflict 
between his moral valuations on various levels of consciousness and general- 
ity. The u American Dilemma," referred to in the title of this book, is the 
ever-raging conflict between, on the one hand, the valuations preserved on 
the general plane which we shall call the "American Creed," where the 
American thinks, talks, and acts under the influence of high national and 
Christian precepts, and, on the other hand, the valuations on specific planes 
of individual and group living, where personal and local interests; eco- 
nomic, social, and sexual jealousies; considerations of community prestige 
and conformity ; group prejudice against particular persons or types of 
people; and all sorts of miscellaneous wants, impulses, and habits dominate 
his outlook. 

The American philosopher, John Dewey, whose immense influence is 
to be explained by his rare gift for projecting faithfully the aspirations and 
possibilities of the culture he was born into, in the maturity of age and 
wisdom has written a book on Freedom and Culture, in which he says: 

Anything that obscures the fundamentally moral nature of the social problem is 
harmful, no matter whether it proceeds from the side of physical or of psychological 
theory. Any doctrine that eliminates or even obscures the function of choice of values 
and enlistment of desires and emotions in behalf of those chosen weakens personal 
responsibility for judgment and for action. It thus helps create the attitudes that 
welcome and support the totalitarian state. 1 

We shall attempt to follow through Dewey's conception of what a social 
problem really is. 

2. Valuations and Beliefs 

The Negro problem in America would be of a different nature, and, 
indeed, would be simpler to handle scientifically, if the moral conflict 



xlviii Introduction 

raged only between valuations held by different persons and groups of 
persons. The essence of the moral situation is, however, that the conflicting 
valuations are also held by the same person. The moral struggle goes on 
within people and not only between them. As people's valuations are con- 
flicting, behavior normally becomes a moral compromise. There are no 
homogeneous "attitudes" behind human behavior but a mesh of struggling 
inclinations, interests, and ideals, some held conscious and some suppressed 
for long intervals but all active in bending behavior in their direction. 

The unity of a culture consists in the fact that all valuations are 
mutually shared in some degree. We shall find that even a poor and 
uneducated white person in some isolated and backward rural region in 
the Deep South, who is violently prejudiced against the Negro and intent 
upon depriving him of civic rights and human independence, has also a 
whole compartment in his valuation sphere housing the entire American 
Creed of liberty, equality, justice, and fair opportunity for everybody. He 
is actually also a good Christian and honestly devoted to the ideals of 
human brotherhood and the Golden Rule. And these more general valua- 
tions^ — more general in the sense that they refer to all human beings — are, 
to some extent, effective in shaping his behavior. Indeed, it would be impos- 
sible to understand why the Negro does not fare worse in some regions of 
America if it were not constantly kept in mind that behavior is the outcome 
of a compromise between valuations, among which the equalitarian ideal 
is one. At the other end, there are few liberals, even in New England, who 
have not a well-furnished compartment of race prejudice, even if it is usually 
suppressed from conscious attention. Even the American Negroes share 
in this community of valuations: they have eagerly imbibed the American 
Creed and the revolutionary Christian teaching of common brotherhood; 
under closer study, they usually reveal also that they hold something of 
the majority prejudice against their own kind and its characteristics. 

The intensities and proportions in which these conflicting valuations are 
present vary considerably from one American to another, and within the 
same individual, from one situation to another. The cultural unity of the 
nation consists, however, in the fact that most Americans have most valua- 
tions in common though they are arranged differently in the sphere of 
valuations of different individuals and groups and bear different intensity 
coefficients. This cultural unity is the indispensable basis for discussion 
between persons and groups. It is the floor upon which the democratic 
process goes on. 

In America as everywhere else people agree, as an abstract proposition, 
that the more general valuations— those which refer to man as such and 
not to any particular group or temporary situation— are morally higher. 
These valuations are also given the sanction of religion and national 
legislation. They are incorporated into the American Creed. The other 



Introduction xlix 

valuations — which refer to various smaller groups of mankind or to partic- 
ular occasions — are commonly referred to as "irrational" or "prejudiced," 
sometimes even by people who express and stress them. They are defended 
in terms of tradition, expediency or utility. 

Trying to defend their behavior to others, and primarily to themselves, 
people will attempt to conceal the conflict between their different valua- 
tions of what is desirable and undesirable, right or wrong, by keeping away 
some valuations from awareness and by focusing attention on others. For 
the same opportune purpose, people will twist and mutilate their beliefs 
of how social reality actually is. In our study we encounter whole systems 
of firmly entrenched popular beliefs concerning the Negro and his relations 
to the larger society, which are bluntly false and which can only be under- 
stood when we remember the opportunistic ad hoc purposes they serve. 
These "popular theories," because of the rationalizing function they serve, 
are heavily loaded with emotions. But people also want to be rational. 
Scientific truth-seeking and education are slowly rectifying the beliefs and 
thereby also influencing the valuations. In a rationalistic civilization it is 
not only that the beliefs arc shaped by the valuations, but also that the 
valuations depend upon the beliefs." 

Our task in this inquiry is to ascertain social reality as it is. We shall seek 
to depict the actual life conditions of the American Negro people and their 
manifold relations to the larger American society. We must describe, in as 
much detail as our observations and space here allow, who the American 
Negro is, and how he fares. Whenever possible, we shall present quantita- 
tive indices of his existence and of the material conditions for his existence. 
But this is not all and, from our point of view, not even the most important 
part of social reality. We must go further and attempt to discover and 
dissect the doctrines and ideologies, valuations and beliefs, embedded in the 
minds of white and Negro Americans. We want to follow through W. I. 
Thomas's theme, namely, that when people define situations as real, they 
are real. 2 We shall try to remember throughout our inquiry that material 
facts in large measure are the product of what people think, feel and 
believe. The actual conditions, as they are, indicate from this point of view 
the great disparities between the whites' and the Negroes' aspirations and 
realizations. The interrelations between the material facts and people's 
valuations of and beliefs about these facts are precisely what make the 
Negro a social problem. 

It is sometimes assumed to be the mark of "sound" research to dis- 
regard the fact that people are moral beings and that they are struggling 
for their conscience. In our view, this is a bias and a blindness, dangerous to 

* The theory of human behavior and its motivation, which is sketched in the text and is 
basic to our approach to the Negro problem, is explained in Appendix i, "A Methodological 
Note on Valuations and Beliefs." 



1 Introduction 

the possibility of enabling scientific study to arrive at true knowledge. Every 
social study must have its center in an investigation of people's conflicting 
valuations and their opportune beliefs. They are social facts and can be 
observed by direct and indirect manifestations. We are, of course, also 
interested in discovering how these inclinations and loyalties came about 
and what the factors are upon which they rest. We want to keep free, how- 
ever, at least at the outset, from any preconceived doctrine or theory, 
whether of the type making biological characteristics, or economic inter- 
ests, sexual complexes, power relations, or anything else, the "ultimate" 
or "basic" cause of these valuations. We hope to come out with a type of 
systematic understanding as eclectic as common sense itself when it is open- 
minded. 

When we thus choose to view the Negro problem as primarily a moral 
issue, we are in line with popular thinking. It is as a moral issue that this 
problem presents itself in the daily life of ordinary people; it is as a 
moral issue that they brood over it in their thoughtful moments. It is in 
terms of conflicting moral valuations that it is discussed in church and 
school, in the family circle, in the workshop, on the street corner, as well 
as in the press, over the radio, in trade union meetings, in the state legis- 
latures, the Congress and the Supreme Court. The social scientist, in his 
effort to lay bare concealed truths and to become maximally useful in 
guiding practical and political action, is prudent when, in the approach to 
a problem, he sticks as closely as possible to the common man's ideas and 
formulations, even though he knows that further investigation will carry 
him into tracts uncharted in the popular consciousness. There is a pragmatic 
common sense in people's ideas about themselves and their worries, which 
we cannot afford to miss when we start out to explore social reality. Other- 
wise we are often too easily distracted by our learned arbitrariness and our 
pet theories, concepts, and hypotheses, not to mention our barbarous ter- 
minology, which we generally are tempted to mistake for something more 
than mere words. Throughout this study we will constantly take our 
starting foint in the ordinary man's own ideas, doctrines, theories and 
mental constructs. 

In approaching the Negro problem as primarily a moral issue of con- 
flicting valuations, it is not implied, of course, that ours is the prerogative 
of pronouncing on a priori grounds which values are "right" and which are 
"wrong." In fact, such judgments are out of the realm of social science, 
and will not be attempted in this inquiry. Our investigation will naturally 
be an analysis of morals and not in morals. In so far as we make our own 
judgments of value, they will be based on explicitly r.tated value premises, 
selected from among those valuations actually observed as existing in the 
minds of the white and Negro Americans and tested as to their social and 



Introduction li 

political relevance and significance. Our value judgments are thus derived 
and have no greater validity than the value premises postulated. 

3. A White Man's Problem 

Although the Negro problem is a moral issue both to Negroes and to 
whites in America, we shall in this book have to give primary attention 
to what goes on in the minds of white Americans. To explain this direction 
of our interest a general conclusion from our studies needs to be stated at 
this point. When the present investigator started his inquiry, his preconcep- 
tion was that it had to be focused on the Negro people and their peculiari- 
ties. This is understandable since, from a superficial view, Negro Americans, 
not only in physical appearance, but also in thoughts, feelings, arid in 
manner of life, seemed stranger to him than did white Americans. Further- 
more, most of the literature on the Negro problem dealt with the Negroes: 
their racial and cultural characteristics, their living standards and occupa- 
tional pursuits, their stratification in social classes, their migration, their 
family organization, their religion, their illiteracy, delinquency and dis- 
ease, and so on. But as he proceeded in his studies into the Negro problem, 
it became increasingly evident that little, if anything, could be scientifically 
explained in terms of the peculiarities of the Negroes themselves. 

As a matter of fact, in their basic human traits the Negroes are inherently 
not much different from other people. Neither are, incidentally, the white 
Americans. But Negroes and whites in the United States live in singular 
human relations with each other. All the circumstances of life — the 
"environmental" conditions in the broadest meaning of that term — diverge 
more from the "normal" for the Negroes than for the whites, if only 
because of the statistical fact that the Negroes are the smaller group. The 
average Negro must experience many times more of the "abnormal" inter- 
racial relations than the average white man in America." The more impor- 
tant fact, however, is that practically all the economic, social, and political 
power is held by whites. The Negroes do not by far have anything 
approaching a tenth of the things worth having in America. 

It is thus the white majority group that naturally determines the Negro's 
"place." All our attempts to reach scientific explanations of why the Negroes 
are what they are and why they live as they do have regularly led to 
determinants on the white side of the race line. In the practical and politi- 
cal struggles of effecting changes, the views and attitudes of the white 
Americans are likewise strategic. The Negro's entire life, and, consequently, 
also his opinions on the Negro problem, are, in the main, to be considered 
as secondary reactions to more primary pressures from the side of the 
dominant white majority. 

*Thw is less true, of course, in communities where the rat'o between the numSei of 
Negroes and the number of whites diverges sharply from the average ratio of one to ten 
ff>r the whole nation. 



Hi Introduction 

The Negro was brought to America for the sake of the white man's 
profit. He was kept in slavery for generations in the same interest. A civil 
war was fought between two regional groups of white Americans. For two 
years no one wanted Negroes involved in the fighting. Later on some two 
hundred thousand Negro soldiers fought in the Northern army, in addi- 
tion to all the Negro laborers, servants, spies, and helpers in both armies. 
But it was not the Negroes' war. As a result of the war, which took a toll 
of some half million killed and many more wounded, the four million 
Negro slaves were liberated. Since then the Negro's "place" in American 
society has been precarious, uncertain and changing j he was no longer so 
necessary and profitable to the white man as in slavery before the Civil War. 
In the main, however, the conflicting and vacillating valuations of the white 
majority have been decisive, whether the issue was segregation in the 
schools, discrimination with reference to public facilities, equal justice and 
protection under the laws, enjoyment of the franchise, or the freedom to 
enter a vocation and earn an honest living. The Negro, as a minority, and a 
poor and suppressed minority at that, in the final analysis, has had little 
other strategy open to him than to play on the conflicting values held in the 
white majority group. In so doing, he has been able to identify his cause 
with broader issues in American politics and social life and with moral 
principles held dear by the white Americans. This is the situation even today 
and will remain so in the foreseeable future. In that sense, "this is a white 
man's country." 

This stress in the formulation of our problem, it must be repeated, is 
motivated by an ambition to be realistic about the actual power relations in 
American society. It should not be taken as a doctrinaire approach. In the 
degree that the Negro people succeed in acquiring and institutionalizing 
footholds of power in society with the help of interested white groups — 
for example, if they can freely use their votes, as they can in the North, or 
press themselves into the industrial labor market and the trade unions — 
they will increasingly be able to act and not only to react. Under all 
circumstances, in fact even in slavery, the attitudes and activities of the 
Negro people do, to a certain extent, influence the attitudes and policies of 
the white majority group in power, as account is taken by the whites of the 
Negro's reactions. Even if the prevailing power situation is reason enough 
to look for the primary responsibility for what happens in the valuations of 
the white people, these same valuations are themselves the product of a 
two-way interracial relationship. 

4. Not an Isolated Problem 

Closely related to the thesis that the Negro problem is predominantly 
a white man's problem is another conclusion, which slowly dawned upon 
the author, though it undoubtedly is not news to many of his American 



Introduction liii 

readers: The Negro -problem is an integral fart of, or a special phase of, 
the whole complex of problems in the larger American civilization. It can- 
not be treated in isolation. There is no single side of the Negro problem — 
whether it be the Negro's political status, the education he gets, his place 
in the labor market, his cultural and personality traits, or anything else — 
which is not predominantly determined by its total American setting. We 
shall, therefore, constantly be studying the American civilization in its 
entirety, though viewed in its implications for the most disadvantaged 
population group. 

There is a natural tendency on the part of white people in America to 
attempt to localize and demarcate the Negro problem into the segregated 
sector of American society where the Negroes live. This tendency is visible 
even in many scientific treatments of the Negro problem. The Negro 
spokesmen, on their side, are often equally tempted to stress the singularity 
of their grievances to the extent of not considering the broader setting. 
The fact of segregation also often makes them less familiar with the 
American society at large. The Negro social scientists have their special 
opportunity in knowing intimately the Negro community and will — with a 
few outstanding exceptions* — treat their problems in isolation. 

The assumption underlying the approach in this book is, on the contrary, 
that the Negro problem exists and changes because of conditions and forces 
operating in the larger American society. Establishing this integration is 
thought to make the analysis more realistic. This will explain and, the 
author believes, justify the fact that in all parts of this inquiry attention is 
given to the characteristics of the American society at large in which the 
Negro becomes a problem. 

The relationship between American society and the Negro problem is not 
one-sided. The entire structure of American society is itself greatly con- 
ditioned by the presence of the thirteen million Negro citizens. American 
politics, the labor market, education, religious life, civic ideals, art, and 
recreation are as they are partly because of the important conditioning 
factor working throughout the history of the nation. New impulses from the 
Negro people are constantly affecting the American way of life, bending 
in some degree all American institutions and bringing changes in every 
aspect of the American's complex world view. While primary attention 
will be focused on the Negro people and on the influences from the larger 
society working on them, their influence back on white society will not be 
ignored. 

This plan of keeping the entire American culture within the focus of 
our study will, of course, increase the difficulties of our task. There are 
some ideas concerning the larger society, in which our special problem has 
its play, which are so general that they are hard to grasp and give definite 
form and, in any case, almost impossible to prove. Everyone has .«"ich 



liv Introduction 

ideas, and of necessity, they determine the scientific treatment of a specific 
social problem. In few instances is it possible to check them by present-day 
scientific tools. It is still less possible to check one's ideas about the larger 
society within the frame of a specialized investigation. In the main, they 
remain unchecked, as they are derived by common sense intuition and every- 
day reflection. They are generalized inductions from a vast mass of 
unassorted, scientifically uncontrolled personal experience. Few of them are 
obtained from books dealing with the larger society. But since they 
determine the study, they should be accounted for as far as possible. This 
is usually difficult, as these ideas — in the degree they conform to the cul- 
tural milieu — do not stand out clearly in the consciousness of an investigator. 
No doubt most social scientists honestly believe they have no such pre- 
conceptions. Their prevalence becomes obvious, however, when time has 
passed and the milieu has changed. Then we see how the scientists in the 
past period unconsciously worked under certain preconceptions, which we 
now find erroneous Or not adequate for the present situation. These general 
ideas can also become explicit when one becomes acquainted with a dif- 
ferent civilization and views one's own society through the prism of such 
an alien milieu. 

The present writer has been looking not only at the Negro people but 
at all America from the outside. In fact, it has been his chief and sometimes 
overwhelming difficulty in this work that he had to start from the beginning 
and try to understand not only the Negro problem but the entire American 
culture in which it is encompassed. Comparatively little in American 
civilization is natural to him. He is constantly reminded of the preconcep- 
tions he utilizes to understand the larger American society. The difference 
is not that he has preconceptions and his American colleagues do not. The 
difference is that, being an outsider, he is compelled to be more conscious 
of them, and has had to try to reach them by deliberate intellectual efforts. 
In this situation he is tempted to turn a deficiency into a virtue. At any 
rate, he is under the pressure to state to himself what he thinks about this 
somewhat strange culture. He can then attempt an experiment in more 
rigorous social science methods in the interests of objectivity by laying 
open even this type of preconception. He is thereby attempting rationally 
to assist his critics. Not only in the next few chapters but everywhere in the 
book I express general views on the larger American society j many general 
statements about the Negro and race relations belong to the same type of 
judgment. 

Some readers may disagree with many of my preconceptions of America. 
All will probably disagree with some. Just because in this experiment the 
preconceptions are not hidden but are openly set out, the reader is offered 
a guide to the specific mistakes which, in pursuing the study, might have 
been committed on account of false preconceptions about the larger Ameri- 



Introduction lv 

can society and the Negro problem. If the reader is equally careful he will, 
however, also remember that, at least in the present stage of social research, 
it is next to impossible to judge rationally our most general assumptions 
concerning a civilization. The possibility always remains, therefore, that on 
some points he is wrong, and I am right. But a good result will in any 
case be reached, as we shall have determined the locus of fundamental dis- 
agreement, and thus we shall be better prepared to direct further research 
toward its scientific solution. 

These assumptions are all, in a sense, subjective. I have, naturally, tried 
to acquire as objectively true an understanding of America and the Ameri- 
can Negro as I am capable of reaching. And, equally naturally, it would 
be most fortunate to the investigation if these main assumptions approached 
objective truth and were relevant to the problems under study. But they 
are, of course, not proved; they are not part of scientifically verified truth. 
The only definite statement I can make is that the picture is subjectively 
"true" j that is, that it faithfully represents what the author, upon careful 
consideration, believes to be true. 

5. Some Further Notes on the Scope and 
Direction of this Study 

This book is an analysis, not a description. It presents facts only for the 
sake of their meaning in the interpretation. Since, however, an attempt at 
a comprehensive analysis was made, the scope of the facts, even when com- 
pressed into outline form, is extensive, though, we hope, selective. The 
author had available not only the vast existing published literature, but 
also some specially prepared research memoranda, a portion of which are 
being published, and all of which are made available to the inquiring 
reader.' 

On the theoretical b side> the aim of this book is to formulate tentative 
generalizations on the basis of known facts. A corollary of this scientific 
task is to indicate gaps in knowledge. These gaps will be noted in passing, 
and in some respects positive suggestions for investigation will be offered. 
Undoubtedly, we shall sometimes be found to have overlooked existing 
sources. In view of the scope of the investigation this is inevitable but, 
nevertheless, regrettable. 

As the known and verified facts are scarce, a courageous use will be made 
of the writer's own observations. Their conjectural character will always 
be made explicit. They are the author's best judgments, when published data 

* A list of these will be found in the Preface. The unpublished memoranda can be 
consulted in the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library. 

"The terms theoretical and practical (or folitical) are used in this hook as in the 
discipline of philosophy. The former word implies thinking in terms of causes and effects) 
the latter words imply thinking in terms of means and ends. (See Appendix 2, Section 4.) 



Wi Introduction 

are insufficient, as to what is the truth, and they should be taken only for 
what they are. For the outlining of further research they may serve as the 
projection of plausible hypotheses. 

On the practical side, the aim of this book is to throw light on the future, 
and to construct, in a preliminary way, bases for rational policy. This is one 
reason why the theoretical analysis will stress interrelations and trends. 
Even though reliable prognoses cannot be made in many respects, various 
possibilities can be presented and their probabilities estimated. 

Explicit value premises will be introduced, usually in the beginning of 
each main part of the inquiry. As a source for the value premises, the 
relatively comprehensive and definite body of political ideals contained in 
the "American Creed" will be usedj we shall sketch the historical origin 
of the American Creed in the first chapter. The use of explicit value 
premises serves three main purposes: (i) to purge as far as possible the 
scientific investigation of distorting biases which are usually the result of 
hidden biases $ (2) to determine in a rational way the statement of problems 
and the definition of terms for the theoretical analysis; (3) to lay a logical 
basis for practical and political conclusions." 

Our aim is to organize the entire treatise around one single sequence of 
thoughts. We shall proceed from the American scene at large to the facts 
and problems of Negro life, to the trends, to the specific policies, to their 
final integration into the structure of national policies. This plan is, within 
limits, the basis of organization for each major part of the inquiry. 

The main axes to be drawn through our subject and in accordance with 
which we shall organize the materials are pretty much determined by the 
object under study. Those of most general relevance are: color, region, 
urban-rural residence, social class, education, sex, and age. Comparisons 
between Negroes and whites — in such things, for example, as vital indices, 
criminality, family patterns — will not be made indiscriminately but, as far 
as possible, will be standardized by comparing Negroes with a duly defined 
control group of whites, or by comparing subgroups of Negroes and 
whites of equal social, economic, and educational status. This attempt is, 
however, all too often frustrated through insurmountable difficulties due to 
the scarcity of available data. 

The book concentrates on present conditions but does not neglect the 
future. While it would add to our comprehension to examine the historical 
development behind the existing situation, this is beyond the scope of our 
inquiry. In a sense and to a degree present conditions and trends can be 
analyzed without consideration of their antecedents. This should not be 

* The problem of bias, of theoretical anil practical research, and of the utilization of the 
scientific technique of explicit value premises are treated in Appendix 2, "A Methodological 
Note on Facts and Valuations in Social Science." The author may be allowed to point out 
that a critical study of this inquiry assumes the reading' of Appendix z. 



Introduction lvii 

taken to mean that the author has not tried — within the time available — 
to familiarize himself with the history of the Negro problem in America, 
but merely that this book has a limited scope and does not intend to give 
the history of the Negro problem. Where, in the course of the presentation, 
it is deemed necessary to review some aspect of the past in order to under- 
stand present problems, historical outlines will be offered. We are, how- 
ever, not concerned with the past for its own sake, but merely in so far as 
important happenings in the past have influenced present situations and 
trends. Even in this narrower sphere we do not have the historian's inter- 
est in the "uniquely historical datum" but the social scientist's interest in 
broad and general relations and main trends. 

Other problems of race relations in the United States and the Negro 
problem in areas outside of the United States will be left entirely outside 
the scope of the present inquiry. Good reasons could be given for stretching 
the boundaries of the study considerably in both directions. Unquestionably 
it could contribute vastly to a more complete understanding of the Ameri- 
can Negro problem. Obvious restrictions of space and capacity, however, 
stand in the way. 

The book has grown to considerable length, and the author realizes that 
some readers cannot afford the time or energy to read it all. The main parts 
have, therefore, been arranged so that they can be read independently. 
This has involved some repetitions of facts and main viewpoints. Even for 
the reader who reads the whole book, the repetitions have been thought 
to be less burdensome than the risk of obscurity. When he surveyed a wide 
field of American culture, James Bryce said: 

Whenever it has been necessary to trace a phenomenon to its source or to explain 
the connection between several phenomena, I have not hesitated, knowing that one 
must not expect a reader to carry in his mind all that has been told already, to re-state 
a material fact, or rc-enforce a view which gives to the facts what I conceive to be 
their true significance. 4 

Technical terms will be avoided except when they are necessary for 
clarity. Words will be used in their common sense meaning unless the 
danger of ambiguity forces us explicitly to restrict the meaning of the 
term. Some of the main terms which are understood to be value loaded — 
such as discrimination, disfranchisement, caste, and class — will be expressly 
denned in relation to our set of value premises. 11 

If we have departed from the usual techniques of style in minor respects, 
we have done so with the hope of helping the reader. One thing may be 
mentioned here: We have classified footnotes into two groups. Those 
marked by letters of the alphabet are placed at the bottom of the page; 
we believe that they should be read with the text since they are integral 

* See Appendix 2, Section *.. 



lviii Introductiok 

parts of it, but would make the text clumsy if they were to be inserted in it 
Those marked by numbers are placed at the end of the book} they are 
mainly for scholars who wish concrete evidence of sources, but we believe 
the general reader will wish to skim over them. Our classification is sub- 
jective and does not rigidly follow any rules. 

6. A Warning to the Reader 

Before embarking upon the study, the simple old reminder should be 
repeated that no person or culture can be judged solely by its imperfections. 
The subject of this book — American attitudes and actions with respect to 
the Negro and the disparity between American ideals and behavior in this 
field — forces us to dig in dark corners and to wash dirty linen in public. 
But we wish to warn the reader that we do not, and he should not, regard 
our analysis as a complete evaluation of America. 

As interests in social studies are often concentrated on problem groups 
and areas, a delusion is easily created that the situation in America is worse 
than it actually is. "Moral statistics" consist traditionally of a recording of 
all the negative items in a culture: crime, illegitimacy, suicide and so on. 
This tradition has arisen because data for abnormalities are available. Figure? 
on divorces have been calculated in all countries — and, of course, America 
ranks among the highest — but there has never been any comprehensive 
enumeration of the happy marriages. There are statistics on crime— and they 
are ugly for America--i>ut none on civil decency. The method of measuring 
moral levels by statistics and descriptions of what is extremely bad and 
wrong in a society is thus heavily loaded against a nation with a particularly 
wide range of moral behavior. This is a fact not always taken into account 
even by the American specialists on the evils and the wrongs of society. 

In setting out upon investigating a subject matter, which is bound to deal 
for the most part with various forms of social pathology in America, the 
author must stress that, in his opinion, large groups of the American popu- 
lation probably live a more "righteous" life, measured by whatever 
standard one chooses, than any large group of people anywhere else in 
the Western world. Even in the large cities with a shocking amount of 
political corruption, crime, and vice, by far the greater part of the popula- 
tion has no more contact with these phenomena than if they lived in another 
country. The moral latitude is so very wide in America: if there is abnof' 
molly much that is very bad, there is also unusually much that is extremely 
good. 

Thus a study of America centered upon the Negro problem must not 
be expected to give a comprehensive and balanced cultural analysis of the 
nation any more than would a study centered on crime or political corrup- 
tion. Under a broader perspective the Negro is only a corner — although a 
fairly big one — of American civilization. This corner is one of the least 



Introduction lfat 

clean in the national household: we shall see plenty of law-breaking, crime 
and corruption, poverty and distress, heartlessness and ignorance. We shall 
continuously be dealing with the frictions, worries and shortcomings of 
America. 

Studying the Negro problem gives a "frog-perspective" of the cultural 
situation, not a bird's eye view. Although the frog-perspective does reveal 
some of the real virtues of a society, as we shall find, it focuses more com- 
pletely on its faults. For a general purpose, it is not a true perspective." 
I am eager to have the warning expressly stated in the introduction to this 
book, that anyone who uncritically utilizes the viewpoints and findings of 
this inquiry on the American Negro 'problem for wider conclusions con- 
cerning the United States and its civilization than are warranted by its 
direction of interest is misusing them. 



Part I 
THE APPROACH 



CHAPTER I 

AMERICAN IDEALS 
AND THE AMERICAN CONSCIENCE 

IMHHii iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiHiiimt Himiinmiiiiniiw titmimmii iiiiiHiHiiniiiiMitiiili 

I. Unity of Ideals and Diversity of Culture 

It is a commonplace to point out the heterogeneity of the American 
nation and the swift succession of all sorts of changes in all its component 
parts and, as it often seems, in every conceivable direction, America is 
truly a shock to the stranger. The bewildering impression it gives of dis- 
similarity throughout and of chaotic unrest is indicated by the fact that 
few outside observers — and, indeed, few native Americans — have been able 
to avoid the intellectual escape of speaking about America as "paradoxical." 

Still there is evidently a strong unity in this nation and a basic homo- 
geneity and stability in its valuations. Americans of all national origins, 
classes, regions, creeds, and colors, have something in common: a social 
ethos, a political creed. It is difficult to avoid the judgment that this 
"American Creed" is the cement in the structure of this great and disparate 
nation. 

When the American Creed is once detected, the cacophony becomes a 
melody. The further observation then becomes apparent: that America, 
compared to every other country in Western civilization, large or small, 
has the most explicitly expressed system of general ideals in reference to 
human interrelations. This body of ideals is more widely understood and 
appreciated than similar ideals are anywhere else. The American Creed is 
not merely — as in some other countries — the implicit background of the 
nation's political and judicial order as it functions. To be sure, the political 
creed of America is not very satisfactorily effectuated in actual social life. 
But as principles which ought to rule, the Creed has been made conscious 
to everyone in American society. 

Sometimes one even gets the impression that there is a relation between 
the intense apprehension of high and uncompromising ideals and the 
spotty reality. One feels that it is, perhaps, the difficulty of giving reality 
to the ethos in this young and still somewhat unorganized nation — that it 
is the prevalence of "wrongs" in America, "wrongs" judged by the high 
standards of the national Creed — which helps make the ideals stand out so 



4 An American Dilemma 

clearly,. America is continously struggling for its soul. These principles of 
social ethics have been hammered into easily remembered formulas. All 
means of intellectual communication are utilized to stamp them into every- 
body's mind. The schools teach them, the churches preach them. The 
courts propounce their judicial decisions in their terms. They permeate 
editorials with a pattern of idealism so ingrained that the writers could 
scarcely free themselves from it even if they tried. They have fixed a 
custom of indulging in high-sounding generalities in all written or spoken 
addresses to the American public, otherwise so splendidly gifted for the 
matter-of-fact approach to things and problems. Even the stranger, when 
he has to appear before an American audience, feels this, if he is sensitive 
at all, and finds himself espousing the national Creed, as this is the only 
means by which a speaker can obtain human response from the people to 
whom he talks. 

The Negro people in America are no exception to the national pattern. 
"It was a revelation to me to hear Negroes sometimes indulge in a glorifi- 
cation of American democracy in the same uncritical way as unsophisticated 
whites often do," relates the Dutch observer, Bertram Schricke. 1 A Negro 
political scientist, Ralph Bunche, observes: 

Every man in the street, white, black, red or yellow, knows that this is "the land of 
the free," the "land of opportunity," the "cradle of liberty," the "home of democ- 
racy," that the American flag symbolizes the "equality of all men" and guarantees to 
us all "the protection of life, liberty and property," freedom of speech, freedom of 
religion and racial tolerance. 2 

The present writer has made the same observation. The American Negroes 
know that they are a subordinated group experiencing, more than anybody 
else in the nation, the consequences of the fact that the Creed is not lived up 
to in America. Yet their faith in the Creed is not simply a means of pleading 
their unfulfilled rights. They,' like the whites, are under the spell of the 
great national suggestion. With one part of themselves they actually 
believe, as do the whites, that the Creed is ruling America. 

These ideals of the essential dignity of the individual human being, of 
the fundamental equality of all men, and of certain inalienable rights to 
freedom, justice, and a fair opportunity represent to the American people 
the essential meaning of the nation's early struggle for independence. In 
the clarity and intellectual boldness of the Enlightenment period these 
tenets were written into the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble 
of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and into the constitutions of the 
several states. The ideals of the American Creed have thus become the 
highest law of the land. The Supreme Court pays its reverence to these 
general principles when it declares what is constitutional and what is not. 
They have been elaborated upon by all national leaders, thinkers and 



Chapter i. American Ideals 5 

statesmen. America has had, throughout its history, a continuous discussion 
of the principles and implications of democracy, a discussion which, in 
every epoch, measured by any standard, remained high, not only quanti- 
tatively but also qualitatively. The flow of learned treatises and popular 
tracts on the subject has not ebbed, nor is it likely to do so. In all wars, 
including the present one, the American Creed has been the ideological 
foundation of national morale. 

2. American Nationalism 

The American Creed is identified with America's peculiar brand of na- 
tionalism, and it gives the common American his feeling of the historical 
mission of America in the world — a fact which just now becomes of global 
importance but which is also of highest significance for the particular prob- 
lem studied in this book. The great national historian of the middle nine- 
teenth century, George Bancroft, expressed this national feeling of pride 
and responsibility: 

In the fulness of time a republic rose in the wilderness of America. Thousands of 
years had passed away before this child of the ages could be born. From whatever 
there was of good in the systems of the former centuries she drew her nourishment; 
the wrecks of the past were her warnings . . . The fame of this only daughter of 
freedom went out into all the lands of the earth; from her the human race drew 
hope. 8 

And Frederick J. Turner, who injected the naturalistic explanation into 
history that American democracy was a native-born product of the Western 
frontier, early in this century wrote in a similar vein: 

Other nations have been rich and prosperous and powerful. But the United States 
has believed that it had an original contribution to make to the history of society by 
the production of a sclf-dctcrmining, sdf-restraincd, intelligent democracy. 4 

Wilson's fourteen points and Roosevelt's four freedoms have more recently 
expressed to the world the boundless idealistic aspirations of this American 
Creed. For a century and more before the present epoch, when the oceans 
gave reality to the Monroe Doctrine, America at least applauded heartily 
every uprising of the people in any corner of the world. This was a tra- 
dition from America's own Revolution. The political revolutionaries of 
foreign countries were approved even by the conservatives in America. 
And America wanted generously to share its precious ideals and its happi- 
ness in enjoying a society ruled by its own people with all who would come 
here. James Truslow Adams tells us: 

The American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in 
the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has 
doubtless counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of 



6 An American Dilemma 

being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the bar- 
rier* which had slowly been erected in older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders 
which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being 
of any and every class. And that dream has been realized more fully in actual life here 
than anywhere else, though very imperfectly even among ourselves. 8 

This is what the Western frontier country could say to the "East." And 
even the skeptic cannot help feeling that, perhaps, this youthful exuberant 
America has the destiny to do for the whole Old World what the frontier 
did to the old colonies. American nationalism is -permeated by the American 
Creed, and therefore becomes international in its essence. 

3. Some Historical Reflections 

It is remarkable that a vast democracy with so many cultural disparities 
has been able to reach this unanimity of ideals and to elevate them 
supremely over the threshold of popular perception. Totalitarian fascism 
and nazism have not in their own countries — at least not in the short range 
of their present rule — succeeded in accomplishing a similar result, in spite 
of the fact that those governments, after having subdued the principal 
precepts most akin to the American Creed, have attempted to coerce the 
minds of their people by means of a centrally controlled, ruthless, and 
scientifically contrived apparatus of propaganda and violence. 

There are more things to be wondered about. The disparity of national 
origin, language, religion, and culture, during the long era of mass immi- 
gration into the United States, has been closely correlated with income 
differences and social class distinctions. Successive vintages of "Old Amer- 
icans" have owned the country and held the dominant political power} they 
have often despised and exploited "the foreigners." To this extent condi- 
tions in America must be said to have been particularly favorable to the 
stratification of a rigid class society. 

But it has not come to be. On the question of why the trend took the 
other course, the historians, from Turner on, point to the free land and 
the boundless resources. The persistent drive from the Western frontier — 
now and then swelling into great tides as in the Jeffcrsonian movement 
around 1 800, the Jacksonian movement a generation later, and the succes- 
sive third-party movements and breaks in the traditional parties — could, 
however, reach its historical potency only because of the fact that America, 
from the Revolution onward, had an equalitarian creed as a going national 
ethos. The economic determinants and the force of the ideals can be shown 
to be interrelated. But the latter should not be relegated to merely a 
dependent variable. Vernon L. Parrington, the great historian of the devel- 
opment of the American mind, writes thus: 

'The humanitarian idealism of the Declaration [of Independence] has always 
echoed as a battle-cry in the hearts of those who dream of an America dedicated to 



Chapter x. American Ideals 7 

democratic ends. It cannot be long ignored or repudiated, for sooner or later it 
returns to plague the council of practical politics. It is constantly breaking out in fresh 
revolt. . . . Without its freshening influence our political history would have been 
much more sordid and materialistic." 

Indeed, the new republic began its career with a reaction. Charles Beard, 
in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States? 
and a group of modern historians, throwing aside the much cherished 
national mythology which had blurred the difference in spirit between the 
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, have shown that the 
latter was conceived in considerable suspicion against democracy and fear 
of "the people." It was dominated by property consciousness and designed 
as a defense against the democratic spirit let loose during the Revolution. 

But, admitting all this, the Constitution which actually emerged out of 
the compromises in the drafting convention provided for the most demo- 
cratic state structure in existence anywhere in the world at that time. And 
many of the safeguards so skillfully thought out by the conservatives to 
protect "the rich, the wellborn, and the capable" against majority rule 
melted when the new order began to function. Other conservative safe- 
guards have fastened themselves into the political pattern. And "in the 
ceaseless conflict between the man and the dollar, between democracy and 
property" — again to quote Parrington 8 — property has for long periods 
triumphed and blocked the will of the people. And there are today large 
geographical regions and fields of human life which, particularly when 
measured by the high goals of the American Creed, are conspicuously 
lagging. But taking the broad historical view, the American Creed has 
triumphed. It has given the main direction to change in this country. 
America has had gifted conservative statesmen and national leaders, and 
they have often determined the course of public affairs. But with few 
exceptions, only the liberals have gone down in history as national heroes. 
America is, as we shall point out, conservative in fundamental principles, 
and in much more than that, though hopefully experimentalistic in regard 
to much of the practical arrangements in society. But the principles con- 
served are liberal and some, indeed, are radical. 

America got this dynamic Creed much as a political convenience and a 
device of strategy during the long struggle with the English Crown, the 
London Parliament and the various British powerholders in the colonies. 
It served as the rallying center for the growing national unity that was 
needed. Later it was a necessary device for building up a national morale 
in order to enlist and sustain the people in the Revolutionary War. In this 
spirit the famous declarations were resolved, the glorious speeches made, 
the inciting pamphlets written and spread. "The appeal to arms would 
seem to have been brought about by a minority of the American people, 



8 An American Dilemma 

directed by a small group of skillful leaders, who, like Indian scouts,, 
covered their tracks so cleverly, that only the keenest trailers can now 
follow their course and understand their strategy." 10 

But the Creed, once set forth and disseminated among the American 
people, became so strongly entrenched in their hearts, and the circum- 
stances have since then been so relatively favorable, that it has succeeded in 
keeping itself very much alive for more than a century and a half. 

4. The Roots of the American Creed in the 
Philosophy of Enlightenment 

The American Creed is a humanistic liberalism developing out of the 
epoch of Enlightenment when America received its national consciousness 
and its political structure. The Revolution did not stop short of anything 
less than the heroic desire for the "emancipation of human nature." The 
enticing flavor of the eighteenth century, so dear to every intellectual and 
rationalist, has not been lost on the long journey up to the present time. 
Let us quote a contemporary exegesis: 

Democracy is a form of political association in which the general control and 
direction of the commonwealth is habitually determined by the bulk of the com- 
munity in accordance with understandings and procedures providing for popular 
participation and consent. Its postulates arc: 

1. The essential dignity of man, the importance of protecting and cultivating his 
personality on a fraternal rather than upon a differential basis, of reconciling the 
needs of the personality within the frame-wort of the common good in a formula 
of liberty, justice, welfare. 

2. The perfectibility of man; confidence in the possibilities of the human personal- 
ity, as over against the doctrines of caste, class, and slavery. 

3. That the gains of commonwealths are essentially mass gains rather than the efforts 
of the few and should be diffused as promptly as possible throughout the com- 
munity without too great delay, or too wide a spread in differentials. 

4. Confidence in the value of the consent of the governed expressed in institutions, 
understandings and practices as a basis of order, liberty, justice. 

5. The value of decisions arrived at by common counsel rather than by violence and 
brutality. 

These postulates rest upon (1) reason in regarding the essential nature of the 
political man, upon (2) observation, experience and inference, and (3) the fulfill- 
ment of the democratic ideal is strengthened by a faith in the final triumph of ideals 
of human behavior in general and of political behavior in particular. 11 

For practical purposes the main norms of the American Creed as usually 
pronounced are centered in the belief in equality and in the rights to 
liberty. 12 In the Declaration of Independence— as in the earlier Virginia 
Bill of Rights — equality was given the supreme rank and the rights to 
liberty are posited as derived from equality. This logic was even more 
clearly expressed in Jefferson's original formulation of the first of the 



Chapter i. American Ideals 9 

"self-evident truths": "All men are created equal and from that equal 
creation they derive rights inherent and unalienable, among which are the 
preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 13 

Liberty, in a sense, was easiest to reach. It is a vague ideal: everything 
turns around whose liberty is preserved, to what extent and in what direc- 
tion. In society liberty for one may mean the suppression of liberty for 
others. The result of competition will be determined by who got a head 
start and who is handicapped. In America as everywhere else — and some- 
times, perhaps, on the average, a little more ruthlessly — liberty often 
provided an opportunity for the stronger to rob the weaker. Against this, 
the equalitarianism in the Creed has been persistently revolting. The 
struggle is far from ended. The reason why American liberty was not 
more dangerous to equality was, of course, the open frontier and the free 
land. When opportunity became bounded in the last generation, the inher- 
ent conflict between equality and liberty flared up. Equality is slowly 
winning. The New Deal during the 'thirties was a landslide." 

5. The Roots in Christianity 

If the European philosophy of Enlightenment was one of the ideological 
roots of the American Creed, another equally important one was Christian- 
ity, particularly as it took the form in the colonies of various lower class 
Protestant sects, split off from the Anglican Church. b "Democracy was 
envisaged in religious terms long before it assumed a political termi- 
nology." u 

It is true that modern history has relegated to the category of the pious 
patriotic myths the popular belief that all the colonies had been founded 
to get religious liberty, which could not be had in the Old World. Some 
of the colonics were commercial adventures and the settlers came to them, 
and even to the religious colonies later, to improve their economic status. 
It is also true that the churches in the early colonial times did not always 
exactly represent the idea of democratic government in America but most 
often a harsher tyranny over people's souls and behavior than either King 
or Parliament ever cared to wield. 

But the myth itself is a social reality with important effects. It was strong 

' New Dealers, like most American liberals today, pronounce liberty before equality. But 
they do so in the eighteenth century Jeffcrsonian sense, not in the American businessman's 
sense. The "four freedoms" of Franklin D. Roosevelt are liberties, but they arc liberties to 
get equality, not liberties of the stronger to infringe on the weaker. In this sense, equality 
is logically derivable from liberty, just as liberty is from equality: if there is real liberty 
for all there will be equal opportunity and equal justice for all, and there will even be 
social equality limited only by minor biological inequalities. 

b While the Protestant sects emphasized the elements of the American Creed, it ahoujg. 
not be forgotten that there was an older trait of humanitarianisni and equalitarianism in 
creed of the Medieval Church. 



12 An American Dilemma 

ualism," nor a relatively continuous prosperity, that made it possible for 
America to get along without a publicly organized welfare policy almost 
up to the Great Depression in the 'thirties but it was also the world's most 
generous private charity. 

6. The Roots in English Law 

The third main ideological influence behind the American Creed is 
English law. The indebtedness of American civilization to the culture of 
the mother country is nowhere else as great as in respect to the democratic 
concept of law and order, which it inherited almost without noticing it. 
It is the glory of England that, after many generations of hard struggle, 
it established the principles of justice, equity, and equality before the law 
even in an age when the rest of Europe (except for the cultural islands 
of Switzerland, Iceland, and Scandinavia) based personal security on the 
arbitrary police and on lettres de cachet. 

This concept of a government "of laws and not of men" contained 
certain fundamentals of both equality and liberty. It will be a part of our 
task to study how these elemental demands arc not nearly realized 
even in present-day America. But in the American Creed they have never 
been questioned. And it is no exaggeration to state that the philosophical 
ideas of human equality and the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and 
property, hastily sowed on American ground in a period of revolution 
when they were opportune — even allowing ever so much credit to the 
influences from the free life on the Western frontier — would not have 
struck root as they did if the soil had not already been cultivated by 
English law. 

Law and order represent such a crucial element both in the American 
Creed and in the spotty American reality that, at a later stage of our 
argument in this chapter, we shall have to devote some further remarks 
to this particular set of ideological roots. 

7. American Conservatism 

These ideological forces — the Christian religion and the English law — 
also explain why America through all its adventures has so doggedly stuck 
to its high ideals: why it has been so conservative in keeping to liberalism 
as a national creed even if not as its actual way of life. This conservatism, 
in fundamental principles, has, to a great extent, been perverted into a 
nearly fetishistic cult of the Constitution. This is unfortunate since the 
150-year-old Constitution is in many respects impractical and ill-suited for 
modern conditions and since, furthermore, the drafters of the document 
made it technically difficult to change even if there were no popular feeling 
against change. 

The worship of the Constitution also is a most flagrant violation of the 



Chapter i. American Ideals 13 

American Creed which, as far as the technical arrangements for executing 
the power of the people are concerned, is strongly opposed to stiff formulas. 
Jefferson actually referred to the American form of government as an 
experiment. The young Walt Whitman, among many other liberals before 
and after him, expressed the spirit of the American Revolution more 
faithfully when he demanded "continual additions to our great experiment 
of how much liberty society will bear." Modern historical studies of how 
the Constitution came to be as it is reveal that the Constitutional Conven- 
tion was nearly a plot against the common people. Until recently, the 
Constitution has been used to block the popular will: the Fourteenth 
Amendment inserted after the Civil War to protect the civil rights of the 
poor freedmen has, for instance, been used more to protect business corpor- 
ations against public control." 

But when all this is said, it docs not give more than one side of the cult 
of the Constitution. The common American is not informed on the tech- 
nicalities and has never thought of any great difference in spirit between 
the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. When he worships 
the Constitution, it is an act of American nationalism, and in this the 
American Creed is inextricably blended. The liberal Creed, even in its 
dynamic formulation by Jefferson, is adhered to by every American. The 
unanimity around, and the explicitncss of, this Creed is the great wonder of 
America. The "Old Americans," all those who have thoroughly come tc 
identify themselves with the nation — which are many more than the Sons 
and Daughters of the Revolution — adhere to the Creed as the faith of their 
ancestors. The others — the Negroes, the new immigrants, the Jews, and 
other disadvantaged and unpopular groups — could not possibly have in- 
vented a system of political ideals which better corresponded to their 
interests. So, by the logic of the unique American history, it has developed 
that the rich and secure, out of pride and conservatism, and the poor and 
insecure, out of dire need, have come to profess the identical social ideals. 
The reflecting observer comes to feel that this spiritual convergence, more 
than America's strategic position behind the oceans and its immense material 
resources, is what makes the nation great and what promises it a still greater 
future. Behind it all is the historical reality which makes it possible for 
the President to appeal to all in the nation in this way: "Let us not forget 
that we are all descendants from revolutionaries and immigrants." 

8. The American Conception of Law and Order 

While the Creed is important and is enacted into law, it is not lived up 
to in practice. To understand this we shall have to examine American 

1 See Chapter 20, Section i. 



14 An American Dilemma 

attitudes toward law. It is necessary to discuss the legal tradition of Amer- 
ica at the outset, since it gives a unique twist to each of the specific problems 
that we shall take up in ensuing chapters." 

Americans are accustomed to inscribe their ideals in laws, ranging from 
their national Constitution to their local traffic rules. American laws thus 
often contain, in addition to the actually enforced rules (that is, "laws" in 
the ordinary technical meaning of the term), other rules which are not 
valid or operative but merely express the legislators' hopes, desires, advice 
or dreams. There is nothing in the legal form to distinguish the latter 
rules from the former ones. Much of the political discussion has to do with 
the question of strengthening the administration of laws or taking other 
measures so as to enforce them. Between the completely enforced rules 
and the unenforceable ones there are many intermediary types which are 
sometimes, under some conditions, or in some part, only conditionally and 
incompletely enforced. 

To an extent this peculiar cultural trait of America is explainable by the 
fact that the nation is young and, even more, that it owes its state structure 
to a revolution — a revolution in the courageously rationalistic age of 
Enlightenment. Americans have kept to this custom of inscribing their 
ideals in laws. b 

The "function," from the legislator's point of view, of legislating national 
ideals is, of course, a pedagogical one of giving them high publicity and 
prestige. Legislating ideals has also a "function" of dedicating the nation 
to the task of gradually approaching them. In a new nation made up of 
immigrants from all corners of the world and constantly growing by the 
arrival of other immigrants, carrying with them a greatly diversified cul- 
tural heritage, these goals must have stood out as important to statesmen 
and political thinkers. 

Another cultural trait of Americans is a relatively low degree of respect 
for law and order. This trait, as well as the other one just mentioned, is 
of paramount importance for the Negro problem as we shall show in some 
detail in later chapters. There is a relation between these two traits, of 
high ideals in some laws and low respect for all laws, but this relation 
is by no means as simple as it appears. 

* Our analysis is somewhat parallel to that of James Truslow Adams, "Our Lawless 
Heritage," Atlantic Monthly (December, 1928), pp. 732-740. 

b Other countries, and I am thinking primarily of Great Britain, Holland, and Scandi- 
navia, also sometimes commit their ideals to legislation, but they do so rarely and with 
great circumspection and extreme caution. -On the whole, these countries have left even the 
essential liberties of citizens in a democracy unformulated as merely implied in all legislation 
and judicial procedure. Vet they have afforded a greater protection of the common citizens' 
liberties under the law than America (although thev have not faced the same problems 
as America). 



Chapter i. American Ideals 15 

9. Natural Law and American Puritanism 

On this point we must observe somewhat more closely the moralistic 
attitude toward law in America, expressed in the common belief that there 
is a "higher law" behind and above the specific laws contained in constitu- 
tions, statutes and other regulations. 

The idea of a "natural law" has long been a part of our common line 
of legal tradition. When the elected "lawman" in pre-Christian times 
"spoke the law" to the assembled arm-bearing freemen, he was not assumed 
to make the law or invent it but to expound something which existed prior 
to and independent of himself and all others participating in the procedure. 
The idea of a "higher law," as well as the whole procedure of letting it 
become a social reality and, indeed, the entire legal system as it functioned 
and grew in the northern countries, had deep roots in primitive religion 
and magic, as is revealed by studies of the contemporary mythology and 
the peculiar formalistic mechanisms of the creation and operation of law. 
The distinguishing mark of the particular type of magical thinking in these 
countries was, however, that out of it developed what we now understand 
to be the characteristic respect for law of modern democracy. 

When representative bodies, among them the English Parliament, 
emerged as political institutions, they also did not conceive of themselves 
as "legislatures" in the modern sense, but pretended only to state the law 
that already "existed." Even when these legislatures began to take on new 
functions and to make rules to meet new situations, they still kept up the 
fiction that they only "declared" or "explained" the law as it existed. The 
modern idea of creating laws by "legislation" is thus a late product in the 
historical development of Western democracy, and it was never totally 
freed from the connotation of its subordination to a "higher law" existing 
independent of all formally fixed rules. 

In America the Revolution gave a tremendous spread to this primitive 
idea of "natural law" as it, in the meantime, had been developed in the 
philosophies of Enlightenment under the further influences of Greek 
speculation, Roman law, medieval scholasticism, and free naturalistic 
speculation since Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes and Hugo Grotius. 
American religion supported it strongly. The idea fixed itself upon the 
entire American state structure. "A peculiarity of American democracy 
had been from the beginning that it put its faith in a higher law rather 
than in the changing will of the people." 20 The role given to the Supreme 
Court and the tradition of this tribunal not to "legislate," which as a court 
it could hardly have the right, to do, but to refer to the higher principles 
back of the Constitution strengthened still more the grip of this old idea 
on the mind of the Americans. 

The adherence even in modern times to this idealistic conception of the 



1 6 An American Dilemma 

origin and reality of the judicial order undoubtedly, in one way, raised its 
moral prestige among the American people as it had done earlier in the 
history of the Old World. No careful observer of the present American 
scene should miss seeing, in spite of everything we shall discuss presently, 
the common American's pride in and devotion to the nation's judicial system 
and its legal institutions. Government authorities constantly appeal to this 
idealistic pride and devotion of the citizens in order to enforce the law. In 
America, there is a continuous endeavor to keep the judicial system orderly, 
and there is a continuous educational campaign on behalf of this idealism. 
Undoubtedly the idealistic concept of American law as an emanation of 
"natural law" is a force which strengthens the rule of law in America. 

But, in another way, it is at the same time most detrimental to auto- 
matic, unreflecting law observance on the part of the citizens. Laws become 
disputable on moral grounds. Each legislative statute is judged by the 
common citizen in terms of his conception of the higher "natural law." 
He decides whether it is "just" or "unjust" and has the dangerous attitude 
that, if it is unjust, he may feel free to disobey it. 21 The strong stress on 
individual rights and the almost complete silence on the citizen's duties 
in the American Creed make this reaction the more natural. The Jeffer- 
sonian distrust of government — "that government is best which governs 
least" — soon took the form, particularly on the Western frontier, of a 
distrust and disrespect for the enacted laws. The doctrine of a higher law 
fosters an "extra-legal" disposition towards the state and excuses illegal 
acts. 

But the frontier was not, in this respect, fundamentally different from 
the old colonies. Without stepping outside the American tradition, Garrison 
could pronounce even the Constitution to be a "compact with Hell" on the 
slavery issue. This, by itself, would not have been dangerous to democ- 
racy, if he had meant to argue only for a change of the Constitution. But 
he and many more Northerners of conscientious inclinations found it a 
moral obligation not to obey the fugitive slave laws. Here the citizen does 
not stop to criticize the laws and the judicial system and demand a change 
in them, but he sets his own conception of the "higher law" above the 
existing laws in society and feels it his right to disobey them. It is against 
this background also that we shall have to study the amazing disrespect 
for law and order which even today characterizes the Southern states in 
America and constitutes such a large part of the Negro problem. This 
anarchistic tendency founded upon a primitive concept of natural law has 
never left American political speculation or American popular thought. 22 
This anarchistic tendency in America's legal culture becomes even more 
dangerous because of the presence of a quite different tendency: a desire 
to repdate human behavior tyrannically by means of formal laws. This 
last tendency is a heritage from early American puritanism which was some- 



Chapter i. American Ideals 17 

times fanatical and dogmatic and always had a strong inclination to mind 
other people's business. So we find that this American, who is so proud to 
announce that he will not obey laws other than those which are "good" 
and "just," as soon as the discussion turns to something which in his opinion 
is bad and unjust, will emphatically pronounce that "there ought to be a 
law against . . ." To demand and legislate all sorts of laws against this or 
that is just as much part of American freedom as to disobey the laws when 
they are enacted. America has become a country where exceedingly much 
is permitted in practice but at the same time exceedingly much is forbidden 
in law. 

By instituting a national prohibition of the sale of liquor without taking 
adequate steps for its enforcement, America was nearly drenched in cor- 
ruption and organized crime until the statute was repealed. The laws 
against gambling have, on a smaller scale, the same effect at the present 
time. And many more of those unrespected laws are damaging in so far 
as they, for example, prevent a rational organization of various public 
activities, or when they can be used by individuals for blackmailing pur- 
poses or by the state or municipal authorities to persecute unpopular indi- 
viduals or groups. Such practices are conducive to a general disrespect for 
law in America. Actually today it is a necessity in everyday living for the 
common good American citizen to decide for himself which laws should 
be observed and which not. 

10. The Faltering Judicial Order 

We shall meet this conflict as a central theme in all angles of the Negro 
problem. The conflict should not, however, be formulated only in terms 
of the national ideology. Or, rather, this ideology is not fully explainable 
in terms of the thoughts and feelings out of which the American Creed 
was composed. 

A low degree of law observance already became habitual and nationally 
cherished in colonial times when the British Parliament and Crown, increas- 
ingly looked upon as a foreign ruler by the Americans, insisted upon 
passing laws which the Americans considered unwise, impractical or simply 
unjust. The free life on the frontier also strained legal bonds. There the 
conflict between puritanical intolerance and untamed desire for individual 
freedom clashed more severely than anywhere else. The mass immigration 
and the cultural heterogeneity were other factors hampering the fixation of 
a firm legal order in America. The presence of states within the nation 
with different sets of laws and the high mobility between states were con- 
tributing factors. The jurisdictional friction between states and the federal 
government, the technical and political difficulties in changing the federal 
Constitution, the consequent great complexity of the American legal 
system, and the mass of legal fiction and plain trickery also are among the 



1 9 An American Dilemma 

important factors. For example, it cannot be conducive to the highest 
respect for the legal system that the federal government is forced to carry 
out important social legislation under the fiction that it is regulating "inter- 
state commerce," or that federal prosecuting agencies punish dangerous 
gangsters for income tax evasion rather than for the felonies they have 
committed. 

So this idealistic America also became the country of legalistic formalism. 
Contrary to America's basic ideology of natural law and its strong practical 
sense, "the letter of the law," as opposed to its "spirit," came to have an 
excessive importance. The weak bureaucracy" became tangled up in "red 
tape." The clever lawyer came to play a large and unsavory role in politics, 
in business, and in the everyday life of the citizens. The Americans thus 
got a judicial order which is in many respects contrary to all their inclina- 
tions. 

Under the influence of all these and many jther factors the common 
American citizen has acquired a comparatively low degree of personal 
identification with the state and the legal machinery. An American, when 
he accidentally comes by the scene of a crime or of an attempt by the police 
to seize an offender, is, on the average, more inclined to hurry on in order 
not to get involved in something unpleasant, and less inclined to stop and 
help the arm of the Jaw, than a Britisher or a Scandinavian would be under 
similar circumstances. He is more likely to look on his country's and his 
community's politics and administration as something to be indulged and 
tolerated, as outside his own responsibility, and less likely to think and act 
as a would-be legislator, in a cooperative endeavor to organize a decent 
social life. b He is even inclined to dissociate himself from politics as some- 
thing unworthy and to take measures to keep the worthy things "out of 
politics." This is part of what Lord Bryce called "the fatalism of the 
multitude" in America. This political fatalism and the lack of identification 
and participation work as a vicious circle, being both cause and effect of 
corruption and political machine rule. 

The authorities, when not relying upon the idealistic appeal, will most 
often meet the citizen's individualistic inclinations by trying to educate him 
to obey the law less in terms of collective interest than in terms of self- 
interest. They try to tell the young that "crime does not pay," which, in 
some areas, is a statement of doubtful truth. 

In the exploitation of the new continent business leaders were not 
particular about whether or not the means they used corresponded either 
with the natural law or with the specific laws of the nation or the states. 
This became of greater importance because of the central position of busi- 
ness in the formation of national aspirations and ideals. When Theodore 

* See Chapter to, Section 2. 
The low degree of participation will be discussed in Chapter 33. 



Chapter i. American Ideals 19 

Roosevelt exclaimed: "Damn the law! I want the canal built," he spoke 
the language of his contemporary business world and of the ordinary 
American. 

We have to conceive of all the numerous breaches of law, which an 
American citizen commits or learns about in the course of ordinary living, 
as psychologically a series of shocks which condition him and the entire 
society to a low degree of law observance. The American nation has, 
further, experienced disappointments in its attempts to legislate social 
change, which, with few exceptions, have been badly prepared and ineffi- 
ciently carried out. The almost traumatic effects of these historical dis- 
appointments have been enhanced by America's conspicuous success in so 
many fields other than legislation. One of the trauma was the Reconstruc- 
tion legislation, which attempted to give Negroes civil rights in the South j 
another one was the anti-trust legislation pressed by the Western farmers 
and enacted to curb the growth of monopolistic finance capitalism; a third 
one was the prohibition amendment. 

1 1 . Intellectual Defeatism 

Against this background, and remembering the puritan tendency in 
America to make all sorts of haphazard Jaws directed at symptoms and 
not at causes and without much consideration for social facts and 
possibilities," 3 it is understandable that the social scientists, particularly the 
sociologists, in America have developed a defeatist attitude towards the 
possibility of inducing social change by means of legislation." The political 
"do-nothing" tendency is strong in present-day social science in America. 
It is, typically enough, developed as a general theory — actually as a 
scientific translation of the old natural law idea in its negative import. The 
social scientists simply reflect the general distrust of politics and legislation 
that is widespread among the educated classes of Americans. 

Of particular importance to us is that this view is common even among 
Negro intellectuals when reflecting on various aspects of the Negro 
problem. The failure of Reconstruction had especially severe effects on 
them. Younger Negro intellectuals are disposed to express disbelief in the 
possibility that much can be won by politics, legislation, and law suits, and 
have become inclined to set their hopes on what they conceive of as more 
fundamental changes of the economic structure. Sometimes they think in 
terms of an economic revolution. But, whether their thoughts take such a 
radical direction or stay conservative, a common trait is fatalism in regard 
to politics and legislation. Fatalism in regard to res ptblica is, however, 

* These points are developed at greater length in Appendix z. We are here referring noi 
to the specialists on law and law enforcement but to the general sociologist, economist, or 
political scientist when he meets legislation as an angle of his respective problems. 



ao An American Dilemma 

by 'no means a Negro characteristic. It is a common American disease of 
the democratic spirit which is on the way to becoming chronic. 

We shall meet this tendency as it affects various aspects of the Negro 
problem as we go along. A few critical remarks on the general theory that 
"stateways cannot change folkways" need to be made at the start. In this 
abstract form and as applied to various specific problems, the theory cannot 
be true, since in other parts of the world similar changes are effectuated 
by means of legislation. The theory must, therefore, be qualified in the 
light of specific American conditions. But even in America new legislation, 
infringing upon old customs and upon individual and local interests, is 
often made fairly watertight nowadays. 24 The general explanation why 
some laws have been more successful than others in America is that they 
have been better -prepared and better administered. 

This means that, among the explanations for the general disrepute and 
deficiency of law and order in America, there are two other factors: the 
habit of passing laws without careful investigation, and the relatively low 
standard of American administration of law. To the latter point we shall 
return in a later chapter," where we shall point also to the new but strong 
tendency in America toward the building up of an independent and legal 
administration. On the former point we shall restrict ourselves to quoting 
a high authority: "For nothing is done with so little of scientific or orderly 
method as the legislative making of laws." 211 

These two factors are strategic. When the foolish attempts to suppress 
symptoms of ills while leaving the causes untouched become censored, and 
when lawmaking increasingly becomes an important task of scientific social 
engineering, and when, further, administration becomes independent, legal, 
impartial, and efficient, better laws will be made, and they will be better 
enforced even in America. It is a problem to explain why lawmaking and 
administration have been so backward in a nation where private business 
and also private agencies for public good are often excellently organized. 
The mere possibility of change in these two factors shows the fallacy 
of the general theory that law cannot change custom. In the face of the 
tendency in American society toward more careful lawmaking and improved 
administration the theory appears politically as well as theoretically biased; 
biased against induced change. In this book we shall meet other dynamic 
tendencies in American society favoring the same development, the chief 
among them being, perhaps, the growing cultural homogeneity and the 
increasing political and social participation of the masses. Many social 
scientists tend not only to ignore these changes, but to deny them and, in 
some cases, to oppose them. 

If in the course of time Americans are brought to be a law-abiding 
people, and if they at the same time succeed in keeping alive not only their 

* See Chapter act 



Chapter i. American Ideals 21 

conservatism in fundamental principles and their pride and devotion to 
their national political institutions, but also some of their puritan eagerness 
and courage in attempting to reform themselves and the world — redirected 
somewhat from the old Biblical inclination of thinking only in terms of 
prescriptions and purges — this great nation may become the master builder 
of a stable but progressive commonwealth. 

12. "Lip-Service" 

The conflict in the American concept of law and order is only one side 
of the "moral overstrain" of the nation. America believes in and aspires 
to something much higher than its plane of actual life. The subordinate 
position of Negroes is perhaps the most glaring conflict in the American 
conscience and the greatest unsolved task for American democracy. But 
it is by no means the only one. Donald Young complains: 

In our more introspective moments, ncaily all of us Americans will admit that 
our government contains imperfections and anachronisms. We who have been born 
and brought up under the evils of gang rule, graft, political incompetence, inade- 
quate representation, and some of the other weaknesses of democracy, American plan, 
have developed mental callouses and are no longer sensitive to them. 2 " 

The popular explanation of the disparity in America between ideals and 
actual behavior is that Americans do not have the slightest intention of 
living up to the ideals which they talk about and put into their Constitution 
and laws. Many Americans are accustomed to talk loosely and disparagingly 
about adherence to the American Creed as "lip-service" and even "hypoc- 
risy." Foreigners are even more prone to make such a characterization. 

This explanation is too superficial. To begin with, the true hypocrite sins 
in secret; he conceals his faults. The American, on the contrary, is strongly 
and sincerely "against sin," even, and not least, his own sins. He investi- 
gates his faults, puts them on record, and shouts them from the housetops, 
adding the most severe recriminations against himself, including the 
accusation of hypocrisy. If all the world is well informed about the political 
corruption, organized crime, and faltering system of justice in America, 
it is primarily not due to its malice but to American publicity about its own 
imperfections. America's handling of the Negro problem has been criticized 
most emphatically by white Americans since long before the Revolution, 
and the criticism has steadily gone on and will not stop until America has 
completely reformed itself. 

Bryce observed: "They know, and are content that all the world should 
know, the worst as well as the best of themselves. They have a boundless 
faith in free inquiry and full discussion. They admit the possibility of any 
number of temporary errors and delusions."- 7 The present author remem- 
bers, from his first visit to this country as an inexperienced social scientist 



22 An American Dilemma 

at the end of the 'twenties, how confused he often felt when Americans 
in all walks of life were trustingly asking him to tell them what was 
"wrong with this country." It is true that this open-mindedness, particularly 
against the outside world, may have decreased considerably since then on 
account of the depression, and that the present War might work in the same 
direction, though this is not certain; and it is true also that the opposite 
tendency always had its strong representation in America. But, by and 
large, America has been and will remain, in all probability, a society which 
is eager to indulge in self -scrutiny and to welcome criticism. 

This American eagerness to get on record one's sins and their causes is 
illustrated in the often quoted letter by Patrick Henry (1772), where he 
confessed that he had slaves because he was "drawn along by the general 
inconvenience of living here without them." 

I will not, I cannot, justify it. However culpable my conduct, I will so far pay 
my devoir to virtue as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and 
lament my want of conformity to them. 28 

American rationalism and moralism spoke through Patrick Henry. America 
as a nation is like its courageous and eloquent son of the Revolution. It is 
continuously paying its devoir to virtue; it is repeating its allegiance to the 
full American Creed by lamenting its want of conformity to it. The 
strength and security of the nation helped this puritan tradition to continue. 
No weak nation anxious for its future could ever have done it. Americans 
believe in their own ability and in progress. They are at bottom moral 
optimists. 

In a great nation there is, of course, division of labor. Some Americans 
do most of the sinning, but most do some of it. Some specialize in muck- 
raking, preaching, and lamentation; but there is a little of the muckraker 
and preacher in all Americans. On the other hand, superficially viewed, 
Americans often appear cynical. Their social science has lately developed 
along a deterministic track of amoralistic nonconcernedness; but this is 
itself easily seen to be a moralistic reaction. As a matter of fact, this young 
nation is the least cynical of all nations. It is not hypocritical in the usual 
sense of the word, but labors persistently with its moral problems. It is 
taking its Creed very seriously indeed, and this is the reason why the ideals 
are not only continuously discussed but also represent a social force — why 
they receive more than "lip-service" in the collective life of the nation. The 
cultural unity of the nation is this common sharing in both the consciousness 
of sins and the devotion to high ideals. 

Americans accuse themselves, and are accused by others, of being materi- 
alists. But they are equally extreme in the other direction. Sometimes an 
American feels moved to put the matter right, as Jtisiah Royce did when 
he explained: 



Chapter i. American Ideals 23 

When foreigners accuse us of extraordinary love for gain, and of practical materi- 
alism, they fail to see how largely we are a nation of idealists. Yet that we are such 
a nation is something constantly brought to the attention of those whose calling 
requires them to observe any of the tendencies prevalent in our recent intellectual 
life in America. 28 

The American problem to be studied in this book would, indeed, have an 
entirely different prognosis if this fact were forgotten. 

13. Value Premises in This Study 

For the study of a national problem which cuts so sharply through the 
whole body politic as does the Negro problem, no other set of valuations 
could serve as adequately as the norm for an incisive formulation of our 
value premises as can the American Creed. No other norm could compete 
in authority over people's minds. "The American democratic faith is a 
pattern of ideals providing standards of value with which the accomplish- 
ments of realistic democracy may be judged," observes an author surveying 
the historical trends of American thinking. 80 

And there is no doubt that these ideals are active realities. The student 
of American history must be professionally near-sighted or blinded by a 
doctrinal belief in a materialistic determinism if he fails to see the signif- 
icance of tracing how the Creed is gradually .realizing itself. The American 
Creed is itself one of the dominant "social trends." "Call it a dream or 
call it vision," says John Dewey, "it has been interwoven in a tradition 
that has had an immense effect upon American life." 31 Or, to quote a 
distinguished Negro thinker, the late Kelly Miller: 

In this country political, social and economic conditions gravitate toward equality. 
We may continue to expect thunderstorms in the political firmament so long at 
there exists inequality of political temperature in the atmosphere of the two regions. 
Neither Massachusetts nor Mississippi will rest satisfied until there is an equality of 
political condition in both States. . . . Democratic institutions can no more tolerate 
a double political status than two standards of ethics or discrepant units of weight 
and measure. 82 

But apart from trends, the American Creed represents the national con- 
science. The Negro is a "problem" to the average American partly because 
of a palpable conflict between the status actually awarded him and those 
ideals. 

The American Creed, just because it is a living reality in a developing 
democracy, is not a fixed and clear-cut dogma. It is still growing. During 
the Revolutionary epoch the interests of statesmen and philosophers and 
of the general public were focused on the more formal aspects of freedom, 
equality and justice. After a long period of material expansion but not 
rapid spiritual growth, the American Creed is in this generation again in 



24 An American Dilemma 

a formative stage. It is now discovering its ideals in the social and economic 
sphere and in the realm of international organization. 

While this is going on, there are great disparities in opinions even on 
fundamentals in these new fields of valuation — as there were during the 
Revolution concerning the ideals which then became crystallized. Some 
Americans see in trade unions a denial of the rights to human liberty} 
others see in the unions an expression of the common man's right to reach 
for greater equality and freedom. Some Americans want to tax property 
and nationalize public utilities in order to defend equality of opportunity 
for the masses of the people and to preserve their liberties; others see in 
such attempts an assault upon American principles of liberty. In the inter- 
national field American ideals in recent decades and even today seem 
divided and rambling in the wide space of the triangle marked by the 
three points: absolute isolationism, an organized world democracy, and 
American world imperialism. 

These great disparities of opinion would, in any other social problem, 
considerably increase the technical difficulties of utilizing the Creed as a 
set of specified and definite value premises for research. When in later 
chapters we face the task of defining our value premises specifically, we 
shall find that this is not the case in the Negro problem. The Creed is 
expressive and definite in practically all respects of importance for the 
Negro problem. Most of the value premises with which we shall be 
concerned have actually been incorporated for a long time in the national 
Constitution and in the constitutions and laws of the several states. 

The deeper reason for the technical simplicity of the value aspect of the 
Negro problem is this: From the point of view of the American Creed 
the status accorded the Negro in America represents nothing more and 
nothing less than a century-long lag of public morals. In principle the 
Negro problem was settled long ago; in practice the solution is not effec- 
tuated. The Negro in America has not yet been given the elemental civil 
and political rights of formal democracy, including a fair opportunity to 
earn his living, upon which a general accord was already won when the 
American Creed was first taking form. And this anachronism constitutes 
the contemporary "problem" both to Negroes and to whites. 

If those rights were respected, many other pressing social problems 
would, of course, still remain. Many Negroes would, together with many 
whites, belong to groups which would invoke the old ideals of equality and 
liberty in demanding more effective protection for their social and economic 
opportunities. But there would no longer be a Negro problem. This does 
not mean that the Negro problem is an easy problem to solve. It is a 
tremendous task for theoretical research to find out why the Negro's status 
is what it is. In its unsolved form it further intertwines with all other social 
problems. It is simple only in the technical sense that in America the value 



Chapter i. American Ideals 25 

premises — if they are conceived to be the ideals of the American Creed- 
are extraordinarily specific and definite. 

Finally, in order to avoid possible misunderstandings, it should be 
explained that we have called this Creed "American" in the sense that it is 
adhered to by the Americans. This is the only matter which interests us 
in this book, which is focused upon the Negro problem as part of American 
life and American politics. But this Creed is, of course, no American 
monopoly. With minor variations, some of which, however, are not without 
importance, the American Creed is the common democratic creed. "Ameri- 
can ideals" are just humane ideals as they have matured in our common 
Western civilization upon the foundation of Christianity and pre-Christian 
legalism and under the influence of the economic, scientific, and political 
development over a number of centuries. The American Creed is older and 
wider than America itself. 



CHAPTER 2 



ENCOUNTERING THE NEGRO PROBLEM 



i. On the Minds of the Whites 

When we say that there is a Negro -problem in America, what we mean 
is that the Americans are worried about it. It is on their minds and on their 
consciences. 

To begin with, the Negro is a problem to himself. If a multitude of 
first-hand random observations, such as we have made over the whole 
country, are any evidence, the contented Negro, whose mind is at peace 
on the race issue, is a rare phenomenon. As a generalization he is definitely 
a myth. Whether the myth was ever wholly true in the past, I cannot say. 
It is evident, however, that for a long time the Negro protest has been 
rising. This trend became sharply accentuated during the First World 
War. The present War will, in all probability, increase their discontent 
with their status in America. 

The Negro problem is working on the white man's mind too, even, and 
not least, when he wants to convince himself and others that it is settled 
for all time. The problem has varying degrees of importance in different 
regions, depending partly on their historical backgrounds and on the 
relative proportion of Negroes in their populations, as also in different social 
classes and under different religious, educational and ideological influences. 
Over large areas of America where there are few or no Negroes, the Negro 
problem is of minor importance to the people living there. To these 
ordinary white Americans, the only reason why the Negro problem has a 
higher salience than, say, the problem of British imperialism in India or, 
earlier, the Irish question, is his citizenship in the United States and, 
consequently, his feeling of national responsibility. The frequent reminders 
in the press and in public discussions of the practice of lynching and the 
agitation around the proposed anti-lynching legislation, the reports of 
Negro criminality, the continuous recollections of discrimination in educa- 
tion and in the labor market, and just now the public discomfort around 
the racial angle of both the larger world conflict and the war efforts at 
home — all constantly actualize to some degree this feeling of responsibility. 
This national participation in the Negro problem should not be exag- 

*6 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 27 

geratcd. Neither should it be minimized. It is the writer's conclusion that 
even in those Northern states with few Negroes, the Negro problem is 
always present though relatively quiescent. Nearly everybody in America 
is prepared to discuss the issue, and almost nobody is entirely without 
opinions on it. The opinions vary. They may be vague and hesitating or 
even questioning, or they may be hardened and articulate. But few Amer- 
icans are unaware of the Negro problem. 

So it seems always to have been. Wandering around the stacks of a good 
American library, one is amazed at the huge amount of printed material on 
the Negro problem. A really complete bibliography would run up to 
several hundred thousand titles. 1 Nobody has ever mastered this material 
exhaustively, and probably nobody ever will. The intellectual energy spent 
on the Negro problem in America should, if concentrated in a single 
direction, have moved mountains. 

This does not imply that the Negro problem approaches the status of a 
dominant issue. It is not now a main divider of opinions in national politics, 
although it was so in the decades before and after the Civil War. There 
w6re other periods in American history, however, when it was in the back- 
ground, perhaps never so much as in the decades before the First World 
War. But as a secondary problem and as a peculiar influence on all the 
dominant national issues, it has always held a rank among the most 
conspicuous. Through the generations, it has disturbed the religious 
moralists, the political philosophers, the statesmen, the philanthropists, 
the social scientists, the politicians, the businessmen and the plain citizens. 

A number of factors underlie the present trends — such as the danger of 
continued and, after the Second World War, intensified economic disloca- 
tion with its serious effects on Negro employment; the rising tension 
around democracy as a form of government and a way of life; and, finally, 
the rising educational level and intensified group consciousness and discon- 
tent of the Negro people themselves. All this makes it probable that the 
Negro problem in America is again going to mount high in relative impor- 
tance among national issues. 

2. To the Negroes Themselves 

To the Negro himself, the problem is all-important. A Negro probably 
seldom talks to a white man, and still less to a white woman, without 
consciousness of this problem. Even in a mixed white and Negro group 
of closest friends in Northern intellectual circles, and probably even in an 
all-Negro group, the Negro problem constantly looms in the background 
of social intercourse. It steers the jokes and the allusions, if it is not one 
of the dominant topics of conversation. As an inescapable overtone in social 
relations, "race" is probably just as strong as sex — even in thoae most 



28 An American Dilemma 

emancipated American environments where apparently sex is relatively 
released and "race" is suppressed. 

The Negro leader, the Negro social scientist, the Negro man of art and 
letters is disposed to view all social, economic, political, indeed, even 
esthetic and philosophical issues from the Negro angle. What is more, he 
is expected to do so. He would seem entirely out of place if he spoke 
simply as a member of a community, a citizen of America or as a man 
of the world. In the existing American civilization he can grow to a degree 
of distinction, but always as a representative of "his people," not as an ordi- 
nary American or an individual in humanity. He might protest; if he does 
it for the proper audience and in the proper forms, he is allowed to pro- 
test: but he protests as a Negro. He can criticize, but only as a Negro de- 
fending Negro interests. That is the social role awarded him, and he cannot 
step out of it. He is defined as a "race man" regardless of the role he 
might wish to choose for himself. He cannot publicly argue about collective 
bargaining generally in America, the need of a national budgetary reform, 
monetary schemes for world organization, moral philosophies and esthetic 
principles. 

Even if originally he should have had the interests and the aptitudes for 
wider knowledge and a broader career, the pressure of this expectancy on 
the part of society conditions his personality and forces him, willy-nilly, 
into the role of a Negro champion. This expectancy is entrenched in all 
institutions in American society, including universities, learned societies and 
foundations. It animates even the staunchest friends and protectors of the 
Negro minority, often, indeed, for the reason that the Negroes sorely 
need their leadership. The same expectancy of their leaders is shared by 
the Negro people. The Negro leader, sensing that his own people need 
him and conscious that his racial origin offers him an easy opportunity for 
a role in life, thus acquires his characteristic direction. Even women in 
modern times do not have their souls so pressed into one single narrow 
furrow of human interests by the tyrannic expectancy of society, although 
the women's lot in this, as in many other respects, offers the nearest analogy. 
The Negro genius is imprisoned in the Negro problem. There is through- 
out the entire history of the United States no single example of an excep- 
tion to this rule important enough to be cited. 2 

The difference in this respect between the Negro and other "racial" 
minorities — the Jews, for example — is notable. The difference is not ex- 
plainable simply in terms of differences in natural and cultural abilities 
between the two groups. A Jewish economist is not expected to be a special- 
ist on Jewish labor. A Jewish sociologist is not assumed to confine himself 
always to studying the Ghetto. A Jewish singer is not doomed eternally 
to perform Jewish folk songs. A Jew is not out of place either as a governor 
of a state or as a planner of world reconstruction. The Jew is discriminated 
against in America, but there is a quantitative difference between this and 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 29 

the discrimination against the Negro which is so great that it becomes 
qualitative. On the intellectual level, which we are now discussing, the 
fettering of the Negro spirit within the Negro problem is not accomplished 
so much by simple discrimination as by the prejudice inherent even in the 
most friendly but restrictive expectancy, including the expectancy of the 
Negro people. 

So far we have been commenting on the fate of those rare persons with 
extraordinary talents who, if any, should have both the intellectual 
strength and the opportunities to break out of the prison of the Negro 
problem. To the ordinary members of the Negro upper and middle class, 
even the window shutters of the prison are closed. It will be the theme 
of following chapters to show in some detail how Negro preachers, 
teachers, professionals, and businessmen have had to build their whole 
economic and social existence on the basis of the segregation of their 
people, in response to the dictates of the white society. To state the 
situation bluntly: these upper class Negroes are left free to earn their 
living and their reputation in the backwater of discrimination, but they arc 
not free to go into the main current of the river itself. On the one hand, 
they are kept fully aware of the wider range of opportunities from which 
jhey are excluded by segregation and discrimination. On the other hand, 
they know equally well how they arc sheltered by the monopoly left to 
them in their little world apart. In their whole outlook on life and society 
they are forced into an impossible and tragic dilemma. 

The masses of the Negro people, however, unlike the more advantaged 
leaders, professionals, and businessmen, derive almost none of the com- 
pensatory gains from the caste system. They sense how they are hampered 
and enclosed behind the walls of segregation and discrimination more 
acutely than might be expected. 

They do not usually spend too much of their mental energy on theoriz- 
ing over the Negro problem. Their days are filled with toil and more 
personal troubles and pleasures. But, as we shall find, in most of these varied 
activities, the Negro problem enters as a loud overtone. It is heard in 
church, in school, on the work place, in the play yard and on the street. 
They, too, are imprisoned in the Negro problem. 

The broad masses of Negroes are also enclosed in the prison as effec- 
tively by the restrictive expectancy of their friends as by the persecutions 
of their enemies. 

The patronizing attitude is really more damning than the competitive struggle. 
The stone wall of calm assumption of his inferiority is to the Negro a keener hurt 
and a greater obstacle than the battle which admits an adversary worth fighting 
against. It is hard to keep ambition alive and to maintain morale when those for 
whom you have fondness and respect keep thinking and saying that you are only 
children, that you can never grow up, that you are cast by God in an inferior mould. 8 



30 An American Dilemma 

The late James Weldon Johnson sums up this situation of the Negro 
people in the following way: 

And thi» is the dwarfing, warping, distorting influence which operates upon each 
and every coloured man in the United States. He is forced to take his outlook on 
all things, not from the view-point of a citizen, or a man, or even a human being, 
but from the view-point of a coloured man. It is wonderful to me that the race hat 
progressed so broadly as it has, since most of its thought and all of its activity must 
run through the narrow neck of this one funnel. 4 

3. Explaining the Problem Away 

To the white Americans the possibilities of keeping the Negro problem 
out of their minds are, naturally, greater and, in addition, they have 
certainly good selfish reasons for keeping it below the level of conscious- 
ness. To be sure, it was a not unusual experience of the writer to be told 
confidently sometimes by the learned, but most often by the laity, that 
there is "no Negro problem" in America and that, if there ever was one, 
it is solved and settled for all time and to the full satisfaction of both 
parties. Everything is quiet on the racial front. We think the Negroes are 
all right in their place j and they on their part do not want things changed. 
In fact, they are the happiest lot on earth. Just look at them: how they laugh 
and enjoy themselves ; how they sing and praise the Lord. * 

This attitude was met most frequently and expressed most emphatically 
in the Deep South. It was often maliciously added that there was surely 
a Negro problem in the North, but only because the Yankees have not yet 
learned to know the Negro and how to keep him in his proper place. The 
situation, if true, would certainly deserve to be called paradoxical: The 
Negroes should be least of a problem to the whites in the regions where 
they are most numerous. They should show up among the human and 
national worries, though certainly not as a principal one, of a Minnesota 
farmer who never sees Negroes, but be no problem at all to the Southern 
planter who works them in scores and is always surrounded by them. 

All this is not true, of course. A contrary statement, that the white South 
is virtually obsessed by the Negro problem, that the South has allowed the 
Negro problem to rule its politics and its business, fetter its intelligence and 
human liberties, and hamper its progress in all directions, would be nearer 
the truth. 5 A brilliant Northerner, Frank Tannenbaum, 8 has taken up this 
thought and, presumably fully in earnest, suggested, as the only hope of 
solving the Southern problem, that the Southerners get other worries to 
keep their minds off the Negro: they should get labor troubles, try to get 
immigrants and develop a complex at home against white "foreigners," and 
generally get some real issues into their petty politics. This might be carry- 
ing an idea to an extreme for educational purposes, but certainly there is 
a kernel of sense in it. 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 31 

Apart from the few intellectuals of pronounced liberal leanings, however, 
statements to the effect that there really is no Negro problem have become 
part of the common stock of stereotyped opinions in the South, and they 
are not entirely absent from the North. But such statements cover a 
volcanic ground of doubt, disagreement, concern, and even anxiety — of 
moral tension and need for escape and defense. To furnish such a covering 
is, from a psychological point of view, their very "function." The 
prevalence of such opinions and the intensity with which they are expressed 
might serve as an index of the latent interracial tension felt in the white 
world. 

The usefulness of this escape rationalization has a limit, however. The 
limit is reached when overt interracial struggles appear. The notion of "no 
Negro problem" is then suddenly transformed into an alarming awareness 
that the contrary is so. This contrary reaction can be invoked experimen- 
tally, simply by directing attention to the potentialities of conflict. Particu- 
larly when talking to people among the poorer classes of whites with less 
intellectual control over their thoughts and feelings, the ' writer has 
repeatedly observed the most flagrant contradictions on this point, some- 
times appearing within the same sentence. A white Southerner can defend, 
for instance, the suppression of the Negroes by saying that they are satis- 
fied with their status and lack a desire for change. Without any intermediate 
remarks, he can then proceed to explain that suppression is necessary, that 
Negroes must be kept down by all means, and that Negroes have an ineradi- 
cable craving to be like white people. Attempts on the part of the inter- 
locutor to draw attention to the contradiction have seldom succeeded. 

Some light might be thrown on this state of mind of many American 
whites by observing the different state of mind of the Negroes. The 
Negroes cannot, of course, feel an equivalent need for this special type of 
self-defense, that there is "no Negro problem," which in the white world 
is a defense against one's own thoughts and feelings and the opinions of 
other whites. Actually, it often happened that the writer was told by 
Negroes in the South that race relations in their part of the country offered 
no particular difficulties and were not much of a problem. White people 
present at such pronouncements took great pleasure in the corroboration of 
their own statements. It would seem that such statements from Negro 
leaders are part of the moral tribute expected from those leaders at all 
public interracial affairs, such as school festivals, programs of entertain- 
ment centered around Negro singers, interchurch meetings, and other 
occasions where white representatives are present. That the Negroes should 
be allowed to voice complaints, even though only in a cautious tone, con- 
stituted the radical departure in the innovation of interracial commissions 
after the First World War. Their meetings are between the "best people 
of the two races," and are typically not open to the general public. 



32 An American Dilemma 

Statements that interracial relations are good thus belong in the South to 
the etiquette of Negro college presidents, principals and teachers of Negro 
schools, and all other Negroes enjoying upper or middle class status under 
the sanction of the power of appointment and dismissal in the hands of 
white boards or officials. They are also widely accepted as a way of getting 
along by a considerable number of Negro preachers and by the handful 
of thriving and successful Negro businessmen. In return, these persons are 
allowed much leeway, particularly in the Upper South. These sentiments 
are sometimes also expressed by Negro professionals who are aware of the 
local requirements for successful leadership. 

But, even in these cases, the statements that there is "no Negro problem" 
have an easily detected difference in tone when pronounced by Negroes. 
To begin with, they are usually restricted expressly to the local com- 
munity, and often qualified by certain reservations as to this or that which 
might need improvement, while the corresponding white pronouncements 
are mostly broad and absolute in character. They arc, further, as a defense 
mechanism, primarily directed against provoking the suspicions of the other 
group. They are, finally, not to be taken too seriously. The writer 
repeatedly made the observation, both in the Deep South and in the Upper 
South, as well as in the North, that a Negro seldom took this position when 
talking freely and when there was no point in hiding his real feelings. 

The difference between the two groups, with respect to the recognition 
of the Negro problem, corresponds, of course, to the fundamental fact that 
the white group is above and the Negro group is below, that the one is 
intent upon preserving the status quo, while the other wants change and 
relief from the pressure of the dominant group. The one group is tempted 
to convince itself and others that there is "no problem." The other group 
has a contrary interest to see clearly and even make visible to others the 
existence of a real problem. This latter group may be hushed by fear or 
opportunistic calculations. These calculations can, of course, be of the most 
respectable character j indeed, they often are part of the cautious Negro 
patriot's wise policy of trying to safeguard his people from needless suffer- 
ings and to gain favors for them from the dominating white group. But, in 
any case, the explanation is not to be sought in such deep-seated internal 
tensions as with the white people. The Negro's rationalization, when it 
is articulated, is likely to be much more overt and, indeed, sometimes 
cynically so. It has not the same character of a self-deceiving defense con- 
struction against one's own moral feelings. 

4. Explorations in Escape 

tin a big city in the Deep South I was once taken by a friend to an upper class 
club for a social luncheon party. The conversation turned around world affairs, the 
business trend, art, literature and some personal gossiping; the tone was most con- 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 33 

genial and free, perhaps even carefree, and had the distinctive mark of skeptical 
opentnindedness which accompanies social security and a lifelong experience of 
unhampered cultural opportunities. Near the intended end of the party, my friend 
announced the peculiar reason for my being in America at the present time and 
invited the company to tell tne their frank opinions on the Negro problem. 

For a moment a somewhat awkward silence descended upon our party, a queer 
feeling that our relation of human understanding was broken. An illusion was shat- 
tered. Here we had all been behaving on the understanding that we were men of 
the world, members of that select cosmopolitan fellowship which senses no strong 
local ties and whose minds meet in most broad topics of general and human interest; 
and then suddenly my friend had violated this understanding by addressing all the 
others as a local fraternity sharing a dark secret together, while I was marked off 
as the stranger peeping in on them and their secret, the Negro problem. 

The situation most urgently had to be redefined. The responsibility was shouldered 
by an elderly, very distinguished doctor. He made a short speech (the discussion had 
suddenly turned very formal) to the effect that in the South there was "no Negro 
problem"; a static equilibrium had been readied, and was going to remain, and it 
fitted the situation as a glove fits the hand. More particularly, he went on, the 
relations between the two races in the South corresponded to their inherited abilities 
and aptitudes. A long time ago those relations had been strarilicd into "folkways and 
mores," known and respected by both races and taken for granted, or rather as self- 
evident, in view of the inferior endowments of the African race and the superior 
qualities of the Anglo-Saxon master race. The doctor ended up by pointing out that 
it was, in fact, inherent in this very notion of "mores," that they could never be 
questioned or disputed or even consciously analyzed. There could, indeed, by defini- 
tion, never be a "problem" concerning the mores of society. The very question was 
nonsensical. The mores were the ground everybody walked upon, the axioms of 
social life, even more unquestioned than the religious truths and for more substantial 
psychological reasons. 

The doctor finished. Everybody agreed, and there was really nothing in the issue 
to discuss. The few moments' stress was cased, and a measure of congeniality again 
restored. I then reflected that the South was, as I was finding out, now on the way 
to giving the Negroes a real chance in education. 1 referred to the continuous 
improvement of public schools even for Negroes and to the growing number of 
Negro youths who were permitted to acquire a higher education of a kind, even in 
the South. It had occurred to me, I continued, that this tread in education — leaving 
many other primary causes of change unmentionet}; — represented a dynamic factor 
of cumulative importance. If it was given time, andnrthe direct and indirect effects 
in all spheres of life were allowed to accumulate, the resultant social change might 
finally attain a momentum where it could seriously challenge, or at least move quite 
a bit, the "folkways and mores" our doctor had rooted so firmly, not only in tradi- 
tion, but in the very nature of things and particularly in the biology of the races. 
Yes, it might make it difficult to keep the Negro in his place. It might, for instance, 
make it much less easy to hold him disfranchised; in all certainty it would soon 
render obsolete one of the principal arguments and constitutional instruments for 
denying him the ballot — namely, his illiteracy. 

After this remark, I did not need to say anything more for the next hour or two 



34 An American Dilemma 

bat could lean back and listen to one of the most revealing and most ably performed, 
though sometimes heated, intellectual debates on the Negro problem in America I 
had, up till then, and even thereafter, heard. This was not a theater performance 
staged for my benefit; the arguments were too well considered and reasoned to be 
suspected of being improvised for the occasion; I was, indeed, happily forgotten 
most of the time. There was genuine concern, and there was serious disagreement. 
Professor Sumner's theory of folkways and mores had evaporated into the thinnest 
nothing; even the doctor never said a word more about the mystically unproblcmatic 
"mores." At the end I had the opportunity to restore good feeling between the 
debaters in a roar of understanding laughter when I closed my thanks for Southern 
hospitality with the observation that apparently they seemed to have a most disturb- 
ing Negro problem on their minds down in the Old South. 

A situation in the Negro world parallel to this experience showing how the prob- 
lem burns under the cover of a placid stereotype was given me in one of the very 
first weeks of my study of the Negro problem in America. When I and my Swedish 
associate (accompanied at this occasion by a white friend of the Negro people, a 
professor at a Southern university) visited a Negro leader prominent in banking 
and insurance in a city of the Upper South, he had kindly arranged for a gathering 
in his office of a group of about thirty Negro gentlemen of upper class status, repre- 
senting business, church, university and professions. One of his subordinates had 
been given the function of relating statistics on the progress of Negro business in 
America. He fulfilled his task with much ability and eloquence. The figures some- 
times rose to millions and hundreds of millions and, nevertheless, were presented 
to the last unit; they marched along solemnly and created an illusion of greatness 
and success. The lecture ended up in a cheerful and challenging mood. All had 
listened as to a sermon and felt duly elevated. 

This spirit prevailed until I happened to touch off some of the unfortunate real- 
ities so guardedly concealed within the statistical house of cards that had just been 
erected. I referred to the facts, that one of the white companies alone had more 
Negro insurance business than all the Negro companies together, while the latter had 
practically no white business at all; that Negro banking had a rather serious record 
of bankruptcies; that Negroes were practically excluded from all production and 
wholesale trade; that they controlled only an inconsiderable fraction of retail trade 
even in the Negro consumers' market and practically none in the white market. 

My remarks were formulated as questions, and I was hoping for some discussion. 
But I had never expected the tumultuous and agitated controversy which, much to 
the embarrassment of our dignified host, broke loose. The comforting unanimity a 
few minutes before was suddt tly decomposed into the wide and glaring spectrum of 
American Negro ideologies, bearing not only on business but on all other aspects of 
life as well. All possible opinions were vented in a debate where seldom one spoke 
at a time, ranging from an old-fashioned revolutionism demanding violent resistance 
and aggression by force against the white suppressors, on the infra-red end, to a 
pious religious plea, voiced by an elderly preacher, for endurance, forbearance, and 
patience under the sufferings, on the ultra-violet end. 

4$ these two occurrences exemplify, the artificially constructed escapist 
consensus is liable to crash if pushed from the outside. It is inherent in the 
situation, however, that such pushes do not originate from inside, or, if they 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 35 

do, that an attempt is made to canalize them safely. An unstable equilib- 
rium is retained and actually believed to be stable. 

I once visited an art exhibition in one of the cultural centers of the Old South 
where everything from the city plan to the interests and manners of the people 
carries the cherished memories of the romantic, glorious past. Among other exhibits 
was a man-sized sculpture in terra cotta called "Soldier in Rain," representing a 
Negro man lynched by hanging. The piece was forcefully done; and, as 1 thought, 
a real masterpiece. The hanging man was clothed only in a shirt and a pair of trousers 
tightly stretched around the body by the rain. On the chest there was a medal affixed 
to the shirt; a raindrop was suspended under the medal. I was absorbed in admtring 
the sculpture with two ladies who were supervising the exhibition. They were true 
experts in art appreciation and had kindly followed me around and told me many 
things which I could not otherwise have seen for myself. 

Quite unintentionally I happened to refer to the sculpture as representing a 
lynching. My hostesses immediately reacted as to a shock and explained eagerly that 
I was totally mistaken. The sculpture represented a soldier being hanged, probably 
behind the front for some offense, a soldier in abstracto, "just any soldier." It had 
nothing to do with the Negro problem. They were bent on convincing me that 1 
was wrong; they mentioned that none of all the thousands of visitors to the exhibi- 
tion had ever hinted at the possibility that the sculpture represented a lynched Negro 
and eagerly showed me newspaper clippings with reviews where the sculpture was 
discussed in terms of "a soldier," "a simple soldier," "a soldier behind the line." 
I answered that soldiers were never anywhere executed by hanging either at or behind 
the line, and that in the whole world hanging was, in the popular conception, which 
is the important thing for an artist, usually associated with the F.nglish custom of 
hanging petty thieves and with American lynching parties. I was even brought to 
point out that the sculptor had endowed the hanged man witli the long limbs and 
facial characteristics commonly ascribed to the Negro race. But no arguments had 
any weight. I am convinced that tlicv sincerely believed they were right, and J 
preposterously wrong. The visit ended with some mutually felt embarrassment. 

As my curiosity was awakened, I went to see the sculptor. He is an immigrant 
from one of the republics of Latin America and is of nearly pure Indian descent. I was 
told later that because of his slightly dark color, he sometimes had met some 
difficulties when he was not personally recognized. On one occasion, quite recently, 
he had been beaten by the police when he had appeared on the street one night with 
a white woman. I now told him about my experience at the exhibition and asked 
him to clear up the matter for me. His first answer was that there was nothing to 
clear up: his sculpture was an abstract piece of art and represented a soldier being 
hanged, "any soldier." We discussed the matter for a while on this line. But grad- 
ually, I must confess, I came to feel slightly exasperated, and I said, "If you, the 
artist, do not know what you have created, I know it as an art spectator. You have 
depicted a lynching, and, more particularly, a lynching of a Negro." The sculptor 
then suddenly changed personality, became intimate and open, and said: "I believe 
you are right. And 1 have intended it all the time." I asked, "Don't you think 
everybody must know it?" He said, "Yes, in a way, but they don't want to know it." 
t asked again, "Why have you spent your time in producing this piece? You under- 
stand as well as I that, even if it is admirable and is also being greatly admired by 



36 An American Dilemma 

the whole public, nobody is actually going to buy it. Personally, I would not dare 
to have it in the cellar of my house, still less in a room where 1 lived." He answered, 
"I know. I suppose that I have made this for myself. I am going to keep it in a 
closet. This is the 'American Skeleton in the Closet.' That would be the right name 
of my sculpture. 'Soldier in Rain' is only a fake, a deception between mc and the 
public down here." 

The situation described is a beautiful crystallization of moral escape. A 
sculptor, with so much color in his skin and such life experiences because of 
his skin color that a degree of identification with the American Negro 
people has been established, is living out his aggression in a piece of art 
which, in reality, is meant as an accusation against society. In the layer of 
his mind where his artistic imagination works and directs his skilful hands, 
he is clear and bent on his purpose; and the result is forceful and exact. 
In the layer where he meets the community, there is twilight. He gave me 
two contradictory statements as to what the sculpture actually represented, 
and he was, as I believe, serious and honest both times. The art appreciative 
public in this refined old city shares in his twilight. They accept his fake 
with grace and gratitude. To some extent they also share in the deep 
meaning of the sculpture to its creator. They probably even "get a kick" 
out of an obvious association which, however, they suppress. Probably none 
of the visitors to the exhibition would ever take part in a lynching or have 
anything but regret for its occurrence. But they partake in a national and 
regional responsibility. Lynching, further, stands only as a symbol for a 
whole system of suppression measures, in which they daily are participants. 
Their valuations are in conflict. Art, particularly when presented in such 
a tactful way, has a function of releasing the tension of suppressed moral 
conflicts. 

5. The Etiquette of Discussion 

Generally the form of a matter becomes important when the matter itself 
is touchy. Explosives must be handled with care. Educators, reformers, and 
journalists with liberal leanings in the South have a standard text which 
they recite to please one another and the visitor. Everything can be said 
in the South if it is said "in the right way." Criticisms and even factual state- 
ments should be phrased in such a manner that they do not "offend" or 
create "embarrassment." I have listened again and again to the pronounce- 
ments of this theory of Southern indirectness from liberal white Southerners 
who have been most eager that I should understand, not only the esthetics, 
but also the pragmatic purpose of this escape machinery. I have been told 
countless examples, where, as my interlocutor confided to me, he was able 
to ^*get by" in saying so and so to such and such a person because he phrased 
it $& this or that way, or how this or that change for the better in inter- 
racial relations was "put over" on the public by letting it appear in a euphe- 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 37 

tnSstie light. I have sensed the high subjective pleasure of this persistent 
balancing on the margins and the corresponding pleasures of the less liberal 
audience in being merely teased but never affronted by the sore points. 1 
have come to understand how a whole system of moral escape has become 
polite form in the South. This form is applicable even to scientific writings 
and, definitely, to public discussion and teaching on all levels. It is some- 
times developed into an exquisite and absorbing art. 

It renders the spoken or written word less effective. It is contrary to the 
aims of raising issues and facing problems; it makes difficult an effective 
choice of words. It represents an extra encumbrance in intellectual inter- 
course. At the same time as it purposively opens a means of escape, it also 
fetters everything to the very complex suppressed by this means : the Negro 
problem on their minds. 

This form has even crystallized into a peculiar theory of induced social 
change. It has become policy. There is nearly common agreement in the 
South that reforms in interracial relations should be introduced with as 
little discussion about them as possible. It is actually assumed that the race 
issue is a half dormant, but easily awakened, beast. It is a complex which 
is irrational and uncontrollable, laden with emotions, and to be touched as 
little as possible. 

When talking about the Negro problem, everybody — not only the 
intellectual liberals — is thus anxious to locate race prejudice outside him- 
self. The impersonal "public opinion" or "community feelings" are held 
responsible. The whites practically never discuss the issue in terms of "I" 
or "we" but always in terms of "they," "people in the South," "people in 
this community," or "folks down here will not stand for . . ." this or that. 
One can go around for weeks talking to white people in all walks of life 
and constantly hear about the wishes and beliefs of this collective being, 
yet seldom meeting a person who actually identifies himself with it. But he 
follows it. 

In the more formal life of the community the Negro problem and, in 
fact, the Negro himself, is almost completely avoided. "In effect the Negro 
is segregated in public thought as well as in public carriers," complains 
Robert R. Moton. 7 The subject is only seldom referred to in the church. 
In the school it will be circumvented like sex 5 it docs not fit naturally in 
any one of the regular courses given. Sometimes, but rarely, the topic 
will be taken up for ostentatious treatment as part of an effort toward 
interracial good-will. The press, with remarkable exceptions, ignores the 
Negroes, except for their crimes. There was earlier an unwritten rule in 
the South that a picture of a Negro should never appear in print, and even 
now it is rare. The public affairs of community and state are ordinarily dis- 
cussed as if Negroes were not part of the population. The strange unreality 
of this situation becomes apparent when one comes to realize that for 



38 An American Dilemma 

generations hardly any public issue of importance has been free from a 
heavy load of the race issue, and that the entire culture of the region — 
its religion, literature, art, music, dance, its politics and education, its 
language and cooking — are partly to be explained by positive or negative 
influences from the Negro. 

If the Negro is a shunned topic in formal intercourse among whites in 
the South, he enters all informal life to a disproportionate extent. He creeps 
up as soon as the white Southerner is at ease and not restraining himself. 
He is the standard joke. It is interesting to notice the great pleasure white 
people in all classes take in these stereotyped jokes and in indulging in dis- 
cussions about the Negro and what he does, says and thinks. It is apparently 
felt as a release. Ray Stannard Baker, surveying the South and the Negro 
problem a generation ago, told a story, which the present writer has encoun- 
tered several times and which seems to define the situation properly. 8 

A Negro minister 1 met told me a story of a boy who went as a sort of butler's 
assistant in the home of a prominent family in Atlanta. His people were naturally 
curious about what went on in the white man's house. One day they asked him: 

"What do they talk about when they are eating?" 

The boy thought a moment; then he said: 
"Mostly they discusses us cullud folks." 

As Baker adds, the same consuming interest exists among Negroes. A 
large part of their conversation deals with the race question. One gets the 
feeling that the two groups are sitting behind their fences, publicly ignor- 
ing each other but privately giving free rein to a curiosity emotionalized 
to the highest degree. 

The stories and the jokes give release to troubled people. It is no 
accident that Americans generally are a story-telling nation, and that jokes 
play a particularly important'role in the lives of the Southerners, white and 
black, and specifically in race relations. It should not surprise us that sex 
relations are another field of human life with a great prolification of jokes. 
There is much of human brotherhood in humor — a sort of fundamental 
democracy in a plane deeper than the usual one. It usually conveys a notion 
that we are all sinners before the Lord. When people are up against great 
inconsistencies in their creed and behavior which they cannot, or do not 
want to, account for rationally, humor is a way out. It gives a symbolic 
excuse for inperfections, a point to what would otherwise be ambiguous. It 
gives also a compensation to the sufferer. The "understanding laugh" is 
an intuitive absolution between sinners and sometimes also between the 
sinner and his victim. The main "function" of the joke is thus to create a 
collective surreptitious approbation for something which cannot be approved 
"explicitly because of moral inhibitions. To the whites the Negro jokes 
further serve the function of "proving" the inferiority of the Negro. To the 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 39 

Negroes the function of anti-white jokes is partly to pose the whites in a 
ridiculous light, which to them is a compensation. Partly it is a mechanism 
of psychological adjustment j they "laugh off" their misfortunes, their 
faults, their inferiority. 

In this situation the minds of people are, however, likely to show signs 
of deep-seated ambivalence. White Southerners like and love individual 
Negroes and sometimes Negroes in general ; they apparently also hate them. 
I have often witnessed how the feeling tone can pass from the one emo- 
tional pole to the other abruptly as a result of a remark changing the 
imagined type of interrelation toward which the person reacts. 

What applies to the emotional level may also be found on the intel- 
lectual level. Thus a Southerner, while extolling the virtues of the "good 
old Negroes" he used to know and deploring the vices of the young who 
go to school and are recalcitrant, may suddenly turn an intellectual somer- 
sault and bemoan the ignorance and backwardness of the older group and 
become enthusiastic about the intelligence and progressiveness of the young. 
I have come to know how fundamental and common this ambivalence of 
Southern white people is toward the relative value of the different Negro 
generations and how strategically important it is for policy, educational 
policy particularly. 

Sometimes mental contradictions are elaborated into theories and find 
their way into learned treatises and documents of state policy. An example 
is the theory that Negroes have "lower costs of living," which defends — 
in the writers' minds — lower salaries for Negroes against the equalitarian 
principles of the Constitution. The all-embracing Jim Crow doctrine "equal 
but separate" belongs to the same category of systematized intellectual and 
moral inconsistency. A partial blinding of a person's knowledge of reality 
is sometimes necessary. There are plenty of people in the South who will 
tell you, honestly and sincerely, that Negroes have equal educational 
opportunities with whites. I think they believe it — for a moment, in a way, 
and with a part of their minds. Their conviction rests on two contradictory 
principles between which they shift. 

This mental training of the Southerner, which makes him shift between 
principles according to momentary change or stimulus, spreads from the 
Negro problem to other issues. The Negro problem is unique only in 
intensity. But in most of the other issues, the Negro problem is, directly or 
indirectly, involved. One meets it in the attitude toward trade unionism, 
factory legislation, social security programs, educational policies, and 
virtually all other public issues. 

I once went to sec the director of the Department of Labor In a Southern capital. 
The discussion started by his asking me if trade unions were strong in Sweden, to 
which I answered, "Yes." Without any initiative from my side, he then told me 
how the trade union movement in this region had the great sympathy of the state 



40 An American Dilemma 

and municipal authorities, and how it was favored in all ways. I said to him, "Look 
here, I am an economist. I know that this state is not rich. Your infant industry has 
to overcome a ruthless competition from the North where industry is long estab- 
lished. Trade unions mean higher production costs. Is it really a wise policy to lay 
this extra burden upon your young industry? " My interlocutor immediately changed 
mood. "Now you hit the point. And this is the reason why we try to keep the unions 
out of this state." Then he started to tell me the techniques used to keep out labor 
organizers from the state. 

I changed the subject of conversation and told him I had been visiting some mills 
and felt that there was too little interest shown for security measures to protect the 
workers against accidents. The official started out to give me a vivid impression of 
factory legislation and factory inspection as being the very thing nearest to the legis- 
lators' hearts in this state. Again I invoked my profession as an economist, empha- 
sized the cost factor and the competitive situation ; and again I got the answer, "You 
hit the point" and the totally different story about the attitude of the state. 

These inconsistencies and contradictions should not be taken as indicat- 
ing simply personal insincerity. They are, rather, symptoms of much 
deeper, unsettled conflicts of valuations. The absorbing interest in the form 
of a matter} the indirectness of approach to a person, a subject, or a 
policy j the training to circumvent sore points and touchy complexes — which 
we consider as symptoms of escape — are developing into a pattern of 
thinking and behavior which molds the entire personality. People become 
trained generally to sacrifice truth, realism, and accuracy for the sake of 
keeping superficial harmony in every social situation. Discussion is sub- 
dued; criticism is enveloped in praise. Agreement is elevated as the true 
social value irrespective of what is to be agreed upon. Grace becomes the 
supreme virtue; to be "matter of fact" is crude. It is said about the Southern 
Negro that he is apt to tell you what he thinks you want him to say. This 
characteristic ascribed to the Negro fits, to a considerable extent, the whole 
civilization where he lives. 

This escape mechanism works, however, only to a point. When that 
point is reached, it can suddenly be thrown out of gear. Then grace and 
chivalry, in fact, all decent form, is forgotten; criticism becomes bitter; 
opinions are asserted with a vehemence bordering on violence; and dis- 
agreement can turn into physical conflict. Then it is no longer a question 
of escape. The conflict is raging in the open. 

6. The Convenience of Ignorance 

In this connection the remarkable lack of correct information about the 
Negroes and their living conditions should at least be hinted at. One 
need not be a trained student of the race problem to learn a lot in a couple 
oi days about the Negroes in a community which is not known by even 
its otherwise enlightened white residents. To an extent this ignorance is 
not simply "natural" but is part of the opportunistic escape reaction. 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 41 

It thus happens that not only the man in the street, but also the pro- 
fessional man, shows ignorance in his own field of work. One meets physi- 
cians who hold absurd ideas about the anatomical characteristics of the Negro 
people or about the frequency of disease among the Negroes in their 
own community j educators who have succeeded in keeping wholly unaware 
of the results of modern intelligence research; lawyers who believe that 
practically all the lynchings are caused by rape; ministers of the gospel 
who know practically nothing about Negro churches in their own town. 
In the North, particularly in such groups where contacts with Negroes are 
lacking or scarce, the knowledge might not be greater, but the number of 
erroneous conceptions seems much smaller. The important thing and the 
reason for suspecting this ignorance to be part of the escape apparatus is 
that knowledge is constantly twisted in one direction — toward classifying 
the Negro low and the white high. 

The ignorance about the Negro is the more striking as the Southerner 
is himself convinced that he "knows the Negro," while the Yankee is sup- 
posedly ignorant on the subject. The insistence on the part of the Southern 
whites that they have reliable and intimate knowledge about the Negro 
problem is one of the most pathetic stereotypes in the South. In fact, the 
average Southerner "knows" the Negro and the interracial problem as the 
patient "knows" the toothache — in the sense that he feels a concern — not 
as the diagnosing dentist knows his own or his patient's trouble. He further 
"knows" the Negro in the sense that he is brought up to use a social tech- 
nique in dealing with Negroes by which he is able to get them into sub- 
missive patterns of behavior. This technique is simple j I have often 
observed that merely speaking the Southern dialect works the trick. 

Segregation is now becoming so complete that the white Southerner 
practically never sees a Negro except as his servant and in other stan- 
dardized and formalized caste situations. The situation may have been dif- 
ferent in the old patriarchial times with their greater abundance of primary 
contacts. Today the average Southerner of middle or upper class status 
seems to be just as likely as the typical Northerner to judge all Negroes by 
his cook, and he is definitely more disposed than the Northerner to draw 
the widest conclusions from this restricted source of information. I have 
also found that the white participants in the work of the local interracial 
commissions — who are not typical Southerners because they are extraor- 
dinarily friendly to the Negro and are looked upon as local experts on the 
race problem — regularly stress the importance of those meetings in bring- 
ing together representatives of the two races so that they can "come to know 
each other." They often confess how vastly their own knowledge of the 
Negro has increased because they, in these meetings, had a chance to talk to 
Reverend So-and-so or Doctor So-and-so. These testimonies are the more 
telling when one has been present at a few of these interracial meetings 



42 An American Dilemma 

and observed how strictly formal and ruled by mental inhibitions they are. 
It is also astounding to observe that at such meetings Negro members, by 
relating simple and obvious facts in the local situation, can reveal things 
unknown to the whites present. Even when true friendliness is the basis 
for the approach, the awkwardness and anxiety shown in these interracial 
contacts is often apparent. 

The ignorance about the Negro is not, it must be stressed, just a random 
Jack of interest and knowledge. It is a tense and highstrung restriction and 
distortion of knowledge, and it indicates much deeper dislocations within 
the minds of the Southern whites. The blind spots are clearly visible in 
stereotyped opinions. The "function" of those stereotypes is, in fact, to 
serve as intellectual blinds.* Thinking and talking in terms of stereotypes 
appear to be more common in the Negro problem than in other issues and 
more dominant in the regions of America where the race problem is 
prominent. 

The stereotypes are ideological fragments which have been coined and 
sanctioned. They are abstract and unqualified, as popular thinking always 
tends to be. They express a belief that "all niggers" are thus and so. But, 
in addition, they are loaded with pretention to deep insight. It is because 
of this emotional charge that they can serve to block accurate observation 
in everyday living and detached thinking. They are treated as magical 
formulas. It is amazing to see the stern look of even educated people when 
they repeat these trite and worn banalities, inherited through the genera- 
tions, as if they were pointing out something new and tremendously impor- 
tant, and also to watch their consternation and confusion when one tries 
to disturb their conventional thoughtways by "outlandish" questions. 

7. Negro and White Voices 

What is at the bottom of this elaborated escape psychology? Has the old 
Negro fighter and scholar W. E. B. Du Bois struck a vein of truth when 
he remarks'. 

Nor does the paradox and danger of this situation fail to interest and perplex the 
best conscience of the South. Deeply religious and intensely democratic as arc the 
mass of the whites, they feel acutely the false position in which the Negro problems 
place them. Such an essentially honest-hearted and generous people cannot cite the 
caste levelling precepts of Christianity, 0* believe in equality of opportunity for all 
men, without coming to feel more and more with each generation that the present 
drawing of the color-line is a flat contradiction to their beliefs and professions. 10 

He certainly expresses the opinion of enlightened Negroes. Booker T. 
Washington said, in. essence, the same thing when, in discussing white 
people's prejudice against and their fear of the Negro, he explained that 
they 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 43 

... are moved by a bad conscience. If they really believe there is danger from the 
Negro it must be because they do not intend to give him justice. Injustice always 
breeds fear. 11 

James Weldon Johnson, a third Negro leader, pointed out that 

. . . the main difficulty of the race question does not lie so much in the actual 
condition of the blacks as it docs in the mental attitude of the whites. 12 

And again: 

The race question involves the saving of black America's body and white America's 
soul." 

White people have seen the same thing. Ray Stannard Baker wrote: 

It keeps coming to mc that this is more a white man's problem than it is a Negro 
problem. 14 

A Southern academician, Thomas P. Bailey, whose book on the Negro 
problem has not been surpassed in scrupulous moral honesty, said: 

The real problem is not the negro but the white man's attitude toward the negro. 

and 

Yes, wc Southerners need a freedom from suspicion, fear, anxiety, doubt, unrest, 
hate, contempt, disgust, and all the rest of the race-fccling-begotten braid of viper- 
ous emotions. 15 

The Negroes base their fundamental strategy for improving their status 
pn this insight. Moton tells us: 

. . . the careful observer will discover another characteristic of Negro psychology — 
his quick perception of physical disadvantage and his equally quick adjustment to 
secure the moral advantage. In all the agitation concerning the Negro's ttatus in 
America, the moral advantage has always been on his side, and with that as a lever 
he has steadily effected progress in spite of material disadvantages. 10 

James Weldon Johnson puts it this way: 

Black America is called upon to stand as the protagonist of tolerance, of fair play, 
of justice, and of good will. Until white America heeds, we shall never let its 
conscience 6leep. . . . White America cannot save itself if it prevents us from being 
saved. 17 

And the moral situation of white Southerners is such that Johnson can 
confidently explain: 

Negroes in the South have a simple and direct manner of estimating the moral 
worth of a white man. He is good or bad according to his attitude toward colored 
people. This test is not only a practical and logical one for Negroes to use, but the 
absolute truth of its results averages pretty high. The results on the positive side are, 
I think, invariably correct; I myself have yet to know 2 Southern white man who is 



44 An American Dilemma 

libera] in his attitude toward the Negro and on the race question and is not a man 
of moral worth. 18 

The white man is driven to apologies, not by the Negro, because the 
Negro is not so strong, but by his own moral principles. We shall have to 
study those apologies intensively in this inquiry. Only as a foretaste we 
quote James Truslow Adams, who pleads: 

The condition of the portion of that continent from which he came was one not 
only of savagery but of chronic warfare, quite irrespective of the activities of the 
slave traders. A negro in his native land was liable at any moment to be attacked, 
captured, enslaved by other blacks, torn from his family, or killed and in some cases 
eaten. Would the 1 2,000,000 of negroes in the United States today prefer that their 
ancestors had never been enslaved and that therefore they themselves, if alive, 
should at this moment be living as savages or barbarians in the African jungle? 
Would a DuBois prefer to be head man to an African chief instead of a Harvard 
graduate, scholar and writer? Would a Robeson prefer beating a torn torn to thrilling 
audiences throughout the world with his beautiful voice? Would the colored washer- 
woman I had in the North give up her comfortable house and her car, in which 
she motored her family to Virginia each summer, for the ancestral grass hut in the 
jungle? 19 

An editorial commenting upon certain demands raised by a committee 
of Negro citizens of the City of New York and presented under the 
auspices of a wartime organization for the propagation of democracy in 
America reads: 

... as a group, even in this great free city, they [the Negroes] haven't enjoyed 
equality of opportunity. They have been at a disadvantage in housing. . . . For no 
reason except color, they find many jobs closed to them ... the Negro suffers from 
an undeserved historic misfortune. He docs not enjoy, anywhere in the United 
States, opportunities equal to his individual capacity. ... It is time that more of his 
white neighbors stopped being so patient about this situation. An injustice to any 
group, whether we realize the truth or not, hurts all of us, 20 

And so the conflict in the troubled white man's soul goes on. 

8. The North and the South 

In the North the observer finds a different mental situation in regard to 
the Negro problem. The South is divergent from the rest of the country 
not only in having the bulk of the Negro population within its region but 
also in a number of other traits and circumstances — all, as we shall find, 
directly or indirectly connected with the Negro problem. 

There has been Jess social change in the South. Industrialization has 
lagged until recently. The South is more agricultural and rural. Parts of 
it are isolated. There has been relatively little immigration from foreign 
countries or from the North; practically all migration has been internal 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 45 

or outward. The South is poorer on the average: it is true both that there 
are more poor people in the South and that they are poorer than in the 
North." Farm tenancy is common in the South but rarer in the North. The 
tradition of the "independent farmer" is largely a Northern tradition. 
On the other hand, the tradition of aristocracy is much stronger in the 
South 3 "the Southern gentlemen," "the Southern lady," and "Southern 
hospitality" are proverbial, even if stereotyped. 

Because of this tradition and because of the relative lack of industrial- 
ization, a main way to get and remain rich in the South has been to exploit 
the Negroes and other weaker people, rather than to work diligently, 
make oneself indispensable and have brilliant ideas. The South has been 
relatively intolerant of reform movements of any sort. Circumstances con- 
nected not only with the Negro problem but also with such traditions as 
state's rights make change seem more hazardous than in the North. Educa- 
tion for all groups and on all levels has been inferior in the South. The 
trauma of the Civil War is still acute. The observer finds many Southerners 
still "fighting" the Civil War. In the North it is forgotten. 

The mere existence of a more rapid tempo of life in the North, the 
constant changes, and the feeling of progress push the Negro problem into 
the background. And the human capacity for interesting oneself in social 
problems is crowded by many other worries. There have been more 
frequent clashes of political opinions in the North. The North has been 
made to feel labor problems. The Northern farmers have been more 
restless and articulate in their demands. The continuous mass immigration 
of foreigners has created local problems of exploitation and poverty, 
maladjustment and cultural assimilation. Placed beside these problems a 
local Negro problem, where it existed in the North, became robbed of its 
singularity and shrank in significance. 

The Negro problem has nowhere in the North the importance it has in 
the South. "Too often we find," complained a Southern student of the 
Negro problem long ago, "that when our Northern journalism discusses 
wrongs at the North or at the West, it criticizes the wrongs, but when it 
discusses wrongs at the South, it criticizes the SoutA." 21 This is a correct 
observation. But the explanation and, we must add, the justification of this 
fact is, first, that the Negro problem actually is a main determinant of all 
local, regional, and national issues, whether political, economic, or broadly 
cultural, in the South, while this is not true in the North} and, second, 
that there is a "Solid South" backing the "wrongs" in the one region, 
while opinions are much more diversified in the North. 

* Contrary to the general impression, however, the well-to-do whites in the South are in 
about the same proportion in the population as are the well-to-do whites in the North. 
(We except here the very few tremendous fortunes in the North which are more numerous 
than in the South.) Also, the Southern whites as a whole have about the same income as do 
Northern whites: a large proportion of the poor in the South are Negroes. (See Chapter 16.) 



46 An American Dilemma 

There are few Negroes living in most of the North. This is especially 
true of the rural regions. Where Negroes live in small cities, particularly 
in the New England states, they are a small element of the population 
who have never been much of a problem. In the big cities where the 
greater part of the total Northern Negro population lives, the whites are 
protected from getting the Negro problem too much on their minds by 
the anonymity of life and the spatial segregation of racial, ethnic, and 
economic groups typical of the metropolitan organization of social relations. 
The Northern whites have also been able to console themselves by 
comparing the favorable treatment of Negroes in the North with that of 
the South. Negroes have votes in the North and are, on the whole, 
guaranteed equality before the law. No cumbersome racial etiquette in 
personal relations is insisted upon. The whole caste system has big holes 
in the North, even if prejudice in personal relations is pronounced, and the 
Negroes are generally kept out of the better jobs. Reports of how Negroes 
fare in the South tend to make the Northernere satisfied with themselves, 
if not smug, without, in most cases, making them want to start again to 
reform the South. We fought a Civil War over the Negroes once, they 
will say; it didn't do any good and we are not going to do it again. 

The mass migration of Southern Negroes to the North since the begin- 
ning of the First World War leads naturally — especially in periods of 
economic depression — to the reflection on the part of the Northerners that 
improvement of conditions for Negroes in their own communities is 
dangerous as it will encourage more Southern Negroes to come North. 
Most white Northerners seem to hold that the Negroes ought to stay on 
Southern land, and that, in any case, they cannot be asked to accept any 
responsibility for recent Negro migrants. Few Northerners have any idea 
that the Negroes are being pushed off the land in the South by the develop- 
ment of world competition against Southern agricultural products in com- 
bination with a national agricultural policy discriminating severely against 
the Negroes. This argument that Negroes should not be encouraged to 
come North — which is in the minds of many Northern city authorities — is 
a chief factor in hampering a sound welfare policy for Negroes. 

This "passing the buck" is, of course, not only a device of Northerners 
to quiet their conscience. It is prominently displayed also by Southerners. 
The latter get satisfaction out of every indication that Negroes are not 
treated well in the North and, indeed, that groups other than Negroes are 
living in distress in the North. Such things help to assuage their own 
conscience. They need a rationalization against their sympathy for the 
underdog and against their dislike of the caste pressure inflicted upon the 
Negro. This situation has prevailed since before the Civil War. The horrors 
of Northern free-labor slavery and Northern city slums have never left 
the Southerner's mind. The object of this maltreatment, namely, the poor 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 47 

Negro in both South and North, is the loser. Meanwhile each of the two 
guilty regions points to the other's sins — the South assuaging its conscience 
by the fact that "the Negro problem is finally becoming national in scope" 
and the North that "Negroes are much worse off in the South." 

The Civil War, even if it does not figure so highly in Northern con- 
sciousness as the corresponding memories in the South, is a definite source 
of historical pride in the North. Many families, particularly in the higher 
social classes which contain "Old Americans," have ancestors who fought 
in the War, the recollection of which carries emotional identification with 
the Northern cause. The teaching in the schools of the North spreads an 
identification and a vicarious pride even to the Northerners whose ancestors 
were Europeans at the time of the Civil War. The liberation of the slaves 
plays an important part in this idealization. But, paradoxically enough, it 
turns against the Negro in his present situation: "We gave him full 
citizenship," the Northerner will say. "Now it is his own funeral if he 
hasn't got the guts to take care of himself. It would be an injustice in the 
opposite direction to do more for him than for people in general just 
because of his race. The Negro shouldn't be the ward of the nation. Look 
at all other poor, hardworking people in America. My grandfather had 
to sweat and work before he got through the mill." 

This rationalized political valuation, which can be heard anywhere in the 
North, goes back to the Northern ideological retreat and the national com- 
promise of the 1870's. It still, in disguised forms, creeps into even the 
scientific writings of Yankee authors. Donald Young, for example, writes: 

With the Civil War came emancipation, enfranchisement, and guaranties of equal 
rights for black and white. If anything, Northern politicians did their best to give 
the Negro a favored status which in effect would have made him almost a Ward of 
the government. . . . Although a reaction to slavery was naturally to be expected, it 
would have been a mistake to give the freedman any more protection from private 
or public persecution than is afforded a citizen of any other color. Fortunately, the 
United States Supreme Court and the post-Civil War decline in emotionalism and 
increase in political sanity prevented the consummation of such attempts at special 
Negro legislation protection as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and 
Sumner's Civil Rights Bill originally intended. 22 

The logic of this argument is weak. From the basic equalitarian assump- 
tion, it could not, of course, be deemed to be an unjust favoring of the 
Negro people on account of their race, if they were protected from the 
specific discriminations which are inflicted upon them just because of their 
race. Guaranteeing them civil liberties as citizens could not be said to be 
making them the wards of the nation in this particular sense. But even if 
this Northern rationalization is, in fact, an escape notion like many others 
we have found in the South, it is not charged with much emotion. The 



48 An American Dilemma 

Northerner does not have his social conscience and all his political thinking 
permeated with the Negro problem as the Southerner does. 

Rather, he succeeds in forgetting about it most of the time. The North- 
ern newspapers help him by minimizing all Negro news, except crime news. 
The Northerners want to hear as little as possible about the Negroes, 
both in the South and in the North, and they have, of course, good reasons 
for that. The result is an astonishing ignorance about the Negro on the 
part of the white public in the North. White Southerners, too, are ignorant 
of many phases of the Negro's life, but their ignorance has not such a 
simple and unemotional character as that in the North. There are many 
educated Northerners who are well informed about foreign problems but 
almost absolutely ignorant about Negro conditions both in their own city 
and in the nation as a whole. 

This has great practical importance for the Negro people. A great many 
Northerners, perhaps the majority, get shocked and shaken in their con- 
science when they learn the facts. The average Northerner does not under- 
stand the reality and the effects of such discriminations as those in which 
he himself is taking part in his routine of life. To get fublicity is of the 
highest strategic importance to the Negro feofle. The Negro protection 
and betterment organizations and many white liberals see this clearly and 
work hard to articulate the sufferings of the Negroes. 

There is no doubt, in the writer's opinion, that a great majority of white 
people in America would be prepared to give the Negro a substantially 
better deal if they knew the facts. But to understand the difficulty the 
Negroes have to overcome in order to get publicity, we must never forget 
the opportunistic desire of the whites for ignorance. It is so much more 
comfqrtable to know as little as possible about Negroes, except that there 
are a lot of them in Harlem,- the Black Belt, or whatever name is given 
to the segregated slum quarters where they live, and that there are still 
more of them in the South j that they are criminal and of disgustingly, but 
somewhat enticingly, loose sexual morals j that they are religious and have 
a gift for dancing and singing} and that they are the happy-go-lucky 
children of nature who get a kick out of life which white people are too 
civilized to get. 

Just one note more should be added: the Southerners are not entirely 
different on this last point from the Northerners. I have become convinced 
also that a majority even of Southerners would be prepared for much 
more justice to the Negro if they were really brought to know the situation. 
The younger generations of Southern whites are less indoctrinated against 
the Negro than their parents were. But they are also farther away from 
him, know less about him and, sometimes, get more irritated by what little 
they see. We do not share the skepticism against education as a means of 
mitigating racial intolerance which recently has spread among American 



Chapter 2. Encountering the Negro Problem 49 

sociologists as a reaction against an important doctrine in the American 
Creed. The simple fact is that an educational offensive against racial intoler- 
ance, going deeper than the reiteration of the "glittering generalities" in 
the nation's political creed, ha* never serioudy been attempted in America. 



CHAPTER 3 

FACETS OF THE NEGRO PROBLEM 



i. American Minority Problems 

For some decades there has been a tendency to incorporate the American 
Negro problem into the broader American minority problem. 1 In the 
United States, the term "minority people" has a connotation different from 
that in other parts of the world and especially in Central and Eastern 
Europe, where minority problems have existed. This difference in problem 
is due to a difference in situation. The minority peoples of the United 
States are fighting for status in the larger society; the minorities of Europe 
are mainly fighting for independence from it. In the United States the 
so-called minority groups as they exist today — except the Indians and the 
Negroes — are mostly the result of a relatively recent immigration, which 
it was for a long time the established policy to welcome as a nationally 
advantageous means of populating and cultivating the country. -The new- 
comers themselves were bent upon giving up their language and other 
cultural heritages and acquiring the ways and attitudes of the new nation. 
There have been degrees of friction and delay in this assimilation process, 
and even a partial conscious resistance by certain immigrant groups. But 
these elements of friction and resistance are really only of a character and 
magnitude to bring into relief the fundamental difference between the typi- 
cal American minority problems and those in, say, the old Austrian Empire. 
Of greatest importance, finally, is the fact that the official political creed of 
America denounced, in general but vigorous terms, all forms of suppression 
and discrimination, and affirmed human equality. 

In addition to a cultural difference between the native-born and the 
foreign-born in the United States, there was always a class difference. At 
every point of time many of those who were already established in the 
new country had acquired wealth and power, and were thus in a position 
to lay down the rules to late-comers. The immigrants, who left their native 
lands mainly because they had little wealth, had to fit themselves as best 
they could into the new situation. Their lack of familiarity with the English 
language and ways of life also made them an easy prey of economic 
exploitation. But as long as the West was open to expansion, immigrant 
groups could avoid becoming a subordinate class by going to a place 

so 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 51 

where they were the only class. Gradually the frontier filled up, and free 
land no longer offered the immigrants cultural independence and economic 
self-protection. Increasingly they tended to come from lands where the 
cultures were ever more distant from the established American standards. 
They became distinguished more markedly as half-digested isolates, set 
down in the slums of American cities, and the level of discrimination rose. 

The first stage of their assimilation often took them through the worst 
slums of the nation. Group after group of immigrants from every part of 
the world had their first course in Americanization in the squalid and con- 
gested quarters of New York's East Side and similar surroundings. They 
found themselves placed in the midst of utter poverty, crime, prostitution, 
lawlessness, and other undesirable social conditions. The assimilation process 
brought the immigrants through totally uncontrolled labor conditions and 
often through personal misery and social pressures of all kinds. The Ameri- 
can social scientist might direct his curiosity to the occasional failures of the 
assimilation process and the tension created in the entire structure of larger 
society during its course. To the outside observer, on the other hand, the 
relative success will forever remain the first and greatest riddle to solve, 
when he sees that the children and grandchildren of these unassimilated 
foreigners are well-adjusted Americans. He will have to account for the 
basic human power of resistance and the flexibility of people's minds and 
cultures. He will, have to appreciate the tremendous force in the American 
educational system. But it will not suffice as an explanation. He will be 
tempted to infer the influence upon the immigrant of a great national ethos, 
in which optimism and carelessness, generosity and callousness, were so 
blended as to provide him with hope and endurance. 

From the viewpoint of the struggling immigrant himself, the harsh class 
structure, which thrust him to the bottom of the social heap, did not seem 
to be a rigid social determinant. In two or three generations, if not in one, 
the immigrant and his descendants moved into, and identified themselves 
with, the dominant American group, and — with luck and ability — took their 
position in the higher strata. Only because of this continuous movement of 
former immigrants and their descendants up and into the established group 
could the so-called "Americans" remain the majority during a century 
which saw more than a score of millions of immigrants added to its popula- 
tion. The causal mechanism of this social process has been aptly described 
as a continuous "push upwards" by a steady stream of new masses of toil- 
ing immigrants filling the ranks. of the lower social strata. The class struc- 
ture remained, therefore, fairly stable, while millions of individuals 
were continuously climbing the social ladder which it constituted. The 
unceasing process of social mobility and the prospect of its continuation, and 
also the established Creed of America promising and sanctioning social 



52 An American Dilemma 

mobility, together with many other factors of importance, kept the minority 
groups contented and bent on assimilation. 

Religious differences, differences in fundamental attitudes, and "racial" 
differences entered early as elements of friction in the process of assimila- 
tion and as reasons for discrimination while the process was going on. With 
the growing importance of the new immigration from Southern and 
Eastern Europe in the decades before the War, these factors acquired 
increased importance. They are, in a considerable degree, responsible for 
the fact that even recent community surveys, undertaken decades after the 
end of the mass immigration, give a picture of American class stratification 
which closely corresponds to the differentiation in national groups. This 
type of differentiation is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of 
the American social order. 

The split of the nation into a dominant "American" group and a large 
number of minority groups means that American civilization is permeated 
by animosities and prejudices attached to ethnic origin or what is popularly 
recognized as the "race" of a person. 8 These animosities or prejudices are 
commonly advanced in defense of various discriminations which tend to 
keep the minority groups in a disadvantaged economic and social status. 
They are contrary to the American Creed, which is emphatic in denouncing 
differences made on account of "race, creed or color." In regard to the 
Negro, as well as more generally to all the other minorities, this conflict 
is what constitutes the problem, and it also contains the main factors in the 
dynamic development. Taking a cross-sectional view at any point of time, 
there is thus revealed an inconsistency in practically every American's 
social orientation. The inconsistency is not dissolved, at least not in the 
short run. Race prejudice and discrimination persist. But neither will the 
American Creed be thrown out. It is a hasty conclusion from the actual 

" The popular term "race prejudice," as it is commonly used, embraces the whole complex 
of valuations and beliefs which arc behind discriminatory behavior on the part of the 
majority group (or, sometimes, also on the part of the minority group) and which are 
contrary to the equalitarian ideals in the American Creed. In this very inclusive sense the 
term will be used in this inquiry. It should be noted that little is explained when we say 
that "discrimination is due to prejudice." The concept "race prejudice" unfortunately 
carries connotations that the intergroup situation is fairly stable and that the complex of 
attitudes behind discrimination is homogeneous and solid. (This is, incidentally, the danger 
with the concept of "attitude" as it is often used} see Appendix i.) For a discussion of 
the empirical study of race prejudice, see Appendix 10, Section 4, 

We do not need to enter into a discussion of whether "anti-minority feelings" in general 
are different from the "race prejudices" as they are displayed against Negroes. On the one 
hand, people in general also refer the toTmer attitude to what they usually perceive of as 
"race." As Donald Young points out, there is also something of a common pattern in all 
discriminations (see footnote 1 to this chapter). On the other hand, there is this significant 
difference which we shall stress, that in regard to the colored minorities, amalgamation is 
violently denied them, while in regard to all the other minorities, it is welcomed as a long- 
run process. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 53 

facts of discrimination that the Creed will be without influence in the long 
run, even if it is suppressed for the moment, or even that it is uninfluential 
in the short run. 

In trying to reconcile conflicting valuations the ordinaiy American 
apparently is inclined to believe that, as generations pass on, the remain- 
ing minority groups — with certain distinct exceptions which will presently 
be discussed — will be assimilated into a homogeneous nation. 2 The American 
Creed is at least partially responsible for this, as well as for the American's 
inclination to deem this assimilation desirable. Of course, this view is also 
based on the memories of previous absorption of minority groups into the 
dominant "American" population. Even the American Indians are now 
considered as ultimately assimilable. "The American Indian, once con- 
stituting an inferior caste in the social hierarchy, now constitutes little 
more than a social class, since today his inferior status may be sloughed 
off by the process of cultural assimilation." :1 This, incidentally, speaks 
against the doctrine that race prejudice under all circumstances is an 
unchangeable pattern of attitudes. 

This long-range view of ultimate assimilation can be found to coexist 
with any degree of race prejudice in the actual present-day situation. In 
many parts of the country Mexicans are kept in a status similar to the 
Negro's or only a step above. Likewise, in most places anti-Semitism is 
strong and has apparently been growing for the last ten years. 4 Italians, 
Poles, Finns, arc distrusted in some communities; Germans, Scandinavians, 
and the Irish arc disliked in others, or sometimes the same communities. 
There are sections of the majority group which draw the circle exclusively 
and who hate all "foreigners." There arc others who keep a somewhat 
distinct line only around the more exotic peoples. The individual, regional, 
and class differentials in anti-minority feeling arc grcat. s 

In spite of all race prejudice, few Americans seem to doubt that it is the 
ultimate fate of this nation to incorporate without distinction not only all 
the Northern European stocks, but also the people from Eastern and 
Southern Europe, the Near East and Mexico. They see obstacles; they 
emphasize the religious and "racial" differences; they believe it will take 
a long time. But they assume that it is going to happen, and do not have, 
on the whole, strong objections to it — provided it is located in a distant 
future. 

2. The A nti- Amalgamation Doctrine 

The Negroes, on the other hand, are commonly assumed to be unassimi- 
lable and this is the reason why the characterization of the Negro problem 
as a minority problem does not exhaust its true import. 11 The Negroes are 
set apart, together with other colored peoples, principally the Chinese and 

"See Chapter 4. 



54 An American Dilemma 

the Japanese. America fears the segregation into distinctive isolated groups 
of all other elements of its population and looks upon the preservation of 
their separate national attributes and group loyalties as a hazard to Ameri- 
can institutions. Considerable efforts are directed toward "Americanizing" 
all groups of alien origin. But in regard to the colored peoples, the Ameri- 
can policy is the reverse. They are excluded from assimilation. Even by their 
best friends in the dominant white group and by the promoters of racial 
peace and good-will, they are usually advised to keep to themselves and 
develop a race pride of their own. 

Among the groups commonly considered unassimilable, the Negro peo- 
ple is by far the largest. The Negroes do not, like the Japanese and the 
Chinese, have a politically organized nation and an accepted culture of their 
own outside of America to fall back upon. Unlike the Oriental, there 
attaches to the Negro an historical memory of slavery and inferiority. It 
is more difficult for them to answer prejudice with prejudice and, as the 
Orientals may do, to consider themselves and their history superior to the 
white Americans and their recent cultural achievements. The Negroes do 
not have these fortifications for self-respect. They are more helplessly 
imprisoned as a subordinate caste in America, a caste a of people deemed to 
be lacking a cultural past and assumed to be incapable of a cultural future. 

To the ordinary white American the caste line between whites and 
Negroes is based upon, and defended by, the anti-amalgamation doctrine. 
This doctrine, more than anything else, gives the Negro problem its unique- 
ness among other problems of lower status groups, not only in terms of 
intensity of feelings but more fundamentally in the character of the 
problem. We follow a general methodological principle, presented pre- 
viously, when we now start out from the ordinary white man's notion of 
what constitutes the heart of the Negro problem. 

When the Negro people, unlike the white minority groups, is commonly 
characterized as unassimilable, it is not, of course, implied that amalgama- 
tion is not biologically possible. But crossbreeding is considered undesir- 
able. Sometimes the view is expressed that the offspring of cross- 
breeding is inferior to both parental stocks. Usually it is only asserted that 
it is inferior to the "pure" white stock. The assumption evidently held 
is that the Negro stock is "inferior" to the white stock. On the inherited 

* In this inquiry we shall use the term "caste" to denote the social status difference 
between Negroes and whites in America. The concept and its implications will be discussed 
in some detail in Part VIII. It should be emphasized that, although the dividing line 
between Negroes and whites is held fixed and rigid so that no Negro legitimately can pass 
over from his caste to the higher white caste, the relations between members of the two 
castes are different in different regions and social classes and changing in time. It is true 
that the term "caste" commonly connotes a static situation even in the latter respect How- 
ever, for a social phenomenon we prefer to use a social concept with too static connotations 
rather than the biological concept "race" which, of course, carries not only static but many 
much more erroneous connotations. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 55 

inferiority of the Negro people there exists among white Americans a 
whole folklore, which is remarkably similar throughout the country. To this 
we shall refer in the next chapter. 

Whether this concept of the inferiority of the Negro stock is psycho- 
logically basic to the doctrine that amalgamation should be prohibited, or 
is only a rationalization of this doctrine, may for the moment be left open. 
The two notions, at any rate, appear together. The fact that one is used as 
argument for the other does not necessarily prove such a causal psychic 
relation between them. In many cases one meets an unargued and not 
further dissolvable "primary valuation, which is assumed to be self-evident 
even without support of the inferiority premise. Miscegenation* is said 
to be a threat to "racial purity." It is alleged to be contrary to "human 
instincts." It is "contrary to nature" and "detestable." Not only in the 
South but often also in the North the stereotyped and hypothetical ques- 
tion is regularly raised without any intermediary reasoning as to its applic- 
ability or relevance to the social problem discussed: "Would you like to 
have your sister or daughter marry a Negro?" This is an unargued appeal 
to "racial solidarity" as a primary valuation. It is corollary to this attitude 
that in America the offspring of miscegenation is relegated to the Negro 
race. 

A remarkable and hardly expected peculiarity of this American doctrine, 
expounded so directly in biological and racial terms, is that it is applied 
with a vast discretion depending upon the purely social and legal circum- 
stances under which miscegenation takes place. As far as lawful marriage 
is concerned, the racial doctrine is laden with emotion. Even in the Northern 
states where, for the most part, intermarriage is not barred by the force 
of law, the social sanctions blocking its way are serious. Mixed couples are 
punished by nearly complete social ostracism. On the other hand, in many 
regions, especially in the South where the prohibition against intermarriage 
and the general reprehension against miscegenation have the strongest 
moorings, illicit relations have been widespread and occasionally allowed 
to acquire a nearly institutional character. Even if, as we shall find later 
when we come to analyze the matter more in detail, b such relations are per- 
haps now on the decline, they are still not entirely stamped out. 

Considering the biological emphasis of the anti-amalgamation doctrine 
and the strong social sanctions against intermarriage tied to that doctrine, 
the astonishing fact is the great indifference of most white Americans 

* Miscegenation is mainly an American term and is in America almost always used to 
denote only relations between Negroes and whites. Although it literally implies only mixture 
of genes between members of different races, it has acquired a definite emotional connotation. 
We use it in its literal sense — without implying necessarily that it is undesirable — as a 
convenient synonym of amalgamation. 

* See Chapter 5. 



$6 An American Dilemma 

toward real but illicit miscegenation. In spite of the doctrine, in some 
regions with a large Negro population, cohabitation with a Negro woman 
is, apparently, considered a less serious breach of sexual morals than illicit 
intercourse with a white woman. The illicit relations freely allowed or only 
frowned upon are, however, restricted to those between white men and 
Negro women. A white woman's relation with a Negro man is met by the 
full fury of anti-amalgamation sanctions. 

If we now turn to the American Negro people, we can hardly avoid the 
strong impression that what there is of reluctance in principle toward 
amalgamation is merely in the nature of a reaction or response to the 
white doctrine, which thus stands as primary in the causal sense and 
strategic in a practical sense. It is true that white people, when facing the 
Negro group, make an ideological application of the general Jim Crow 
principle — "equal but separate" treatment and accommodations for the two 
racial groups — and proceed from the assertion that both races are good to 
the explanation that there is a value in keeping them unmixed. They appeal 
also to the Negroes' "race pride" and their interest in keeping their own 
blood "pure." But this is a white, not a Negro, argument. 

The Negro will be found to doubt the sincerity of the white folks' inter- 
est in the purity of the Negro race. It will sound to him too much like a 
rationalization, in strained equalitarian terms, of the white supremacy 
doctrine of race purity. "But the outstanding joke is to hear a white man 
talk about race integrity, though at this the Negro is in doubt whether to 
laugh or swear." ° Even the Negro in the uneducated classes is sensitive to 
the nuances of sincerity, trained as he is both in slavery and afterwards to 
be a good dissembler himself. The Negro will, furthermore, encounter con- 
siderable intellectual difficulties inherent in the idea of keeping his blood 
pure, owing to the fact that the large majority of American Negroes actually 
are of mixed descent. They already have white and Indian ancestry as well 
as African Negro blood. And in general they- are aware of this fact. 

In spite of this, race pride, with this particular connotation of the unde- 
sirability of miscegenation, has been growing in the Negro group. This is, 
however, probably to be interpreted as a defense reaction, a derived second- 
ary attitude as arc so many other attitudes of the Negro people." After 
weighing all available evidence carefully, it seems frankly incredible that 
the Negro people in America should feel inclined to develop any particular 
race pride at all or have any dislike for amalgamation, were it not for the 
common white opinion of the racial inferiority of the Negro people and the 
whites' intense dislike for miscegenation. The fact that a large amount of 
exploitative sexual intercourse between white men and Negro women has 
always been, and still is, part of interracial relations, coupled with the 
further fact that the Negroes sense the disgrace of their women who are 

* See Appendix io, Section 4.. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 57 

not accepted into matrimony, and the inferior status of their mixed off- 
spring, is a strong practical reason for the Negro's preaching "race pride" 
in his own group. But it is almost certainly not based on any fundamental 
feeling condemning miscegenation on racial or biological grounds. 

On this central point, as on so many others, the whites' attitudes are 
primary and decisive} the Negroes' are in the nature of accommodation or 
protest. 

3. The White Man's Theory of Color Caste 

We have attempted to present in compressed and abstract formulation 
the white supremacy doctrine as applied to amalgamation, sex relations and 
marriage. The difficulty inherent in this task is great. As no scientifically 
controlled nation-wide investigations have been made, the author has here, 
as in other sections, had to rely on his own observations. 7 

Every widening of the writer's experience of white Americans has only 
driven home to him more strongly that the opinion that the Negro is 
unassimilable, or, rather, that his amalgamation into the American nation 
is undesirable, is held more commonly, absolutely, and intensely than 
would be assumed from a general knowledge of American thoughtways. 
Except for a handful of rational intellectual liberals — who also, in many 
cases, add to their acceptance in principle of amalgamation an admission 
that they personally feel an irrational emotional inhibition against it — it is a 
rare case to meet a white American who will confess that, if it were not for 
public opinion and social sanctions not removable by private choice, he 
would have no strong objection to intermarriage. 

The intensity of the attitude seems to be markedly stronger in the South 
than in the North. Its strength seems generally to be inversely related 
to the economic and social status of the informant and his educational 
level. It is usually strong even in most of the non-colored minority groups, 
if they are above the lowest plane of indifference. To the poor and socially 
insecure, but struggling, white individual, a fixed opinion on this point 
seems an important matter of prestige and distinction. 

But even a liberal-minded Northerner of cosmopolitan culture and with 
a minimum of conventional blinds will, in nine cases out of ten, express a 
definite feeling against amalgamation. He will not be willing usually to 
hinder intermarriage by law. Individual liberty is to him a higher principle 
and, what is more important, he actually invokes it. But he will regret the 
exceptional cases that occur. He may sometimes hold a philosophical view 
that in centuries to come amalgamation is bound to happen and might 
become the solution. But he will be inclined to look on it as an inevitable 
deterioration. 11 

* The response is likely to be anything but pleasant if one jestingly argues that possibly 
• small fraction of Negro blood in the American people, if it were blended well with all 



58 An American Dilemma 

This attitude of refusing to consider amalgamation — felt and expressed 
in the entire country — constitutes the center in the complex of attitudes 
which can be described as the "common denominator" in the problem. 
It defines the Negro group in contradistinction to all the non-colored 
minority groups in America and all other lower class groups. The boundary 
between Negro and white is not simply a class line which can be success- 
fully crossed by education, integration into the national culture, and 
individual economic advancement. The boundary is fixed. It is not a tem- 
porary expediency during an apprenticeship in the national culture. It 
is a bar erected with the intention of permanency. It is directed against the 
whole group. Actually, however, "passing" as a white person is possible 
when a Negro is white enough to conceal his Negro heritage. But the dif- 
ference between "passing" and ordinary social climbing reveals the distinc- 
tion between a class line, in the ordinary sense, and a caste line. 

This brings us to the point where we shall attempt to sketch, only in an 
abstract and preliminary form, the social mechanism by which the anti- 
amalgamation maxim determines race relations. This mechanism is per- 
ceived by nearly everybody in America, but most clearly in the South. 
Almost unanimously white Americans have communicated to the author 
the following logic of the caste situation which we shall call the "-white 
man's theory of color caste." 

(i) The concern for "race purity" is basic in the whole issue; the primary 
and essential command is to prevent amalgamation; the whites are 
determined to utilize every means to this end. 

(2) Rejection of "social equality" is to be understood as a precaution to 
hinder miscegenation and particularly intermarriage. 

(3) The danger of miscegenation is so tremendous that the segregation 
and discrimination inherent in the refusal of "social equality" must be 
extended to nearly all spheres of life. There must be segregation and 
discrimination in recreation, in religious service, in education, before 
the law, in politics, in housing, in stores and in breadwinning. 

This popular theory of the American caste mechanism is, of course, open 
to criticism. It can be criticized from a valuational point of view by main- 

the other good staff brought over to the new continent, might create a race of unsurpassed 
excellence: a people with just a little sunburn without extra trouble and even through the 
winter) with tome curl in the hair without the cost of a permanent wave; with, perhaps, 
a little more emotional warmth in their souls 1 and a little more religion, music, laughter, 
and carefreeness 111 their lives. Amalgamation is, to the ordinary American, not a proper 
subject for jokes at all, unless it can- be pulled down to the level of dirty stories, where, 
however, it enjoys a fai orcd place. Referred to society as a whole and viewed as a principle, 
11 the anti-amalgamation -naxim is held holy; it is a consecrated taboo. The maxim might, 
indeed, be a remnant of something really in the "mores." It is kept unproblematic, which is 
certainly not the case with all the rest of etiquette and segregation and discrimination 
patterns, for which this quality is sometimes erroneously claimed. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 59 

taming that hindering miscegenation is not a worthwhile end, or that as 
an end it is not sufficiently worthwhile to counterbalance the sufferings 
inflicted upon the suppressed caste and the general depression of productive 
efficiency, standards of living and human culture in the American society 
at large — costs appreciated by all parties concerned. This criticism does not, 
however, endanger the theory which assumes that white people actually 
are following another valuation of means and ends and are prepared to 
pay the costs for attaining the ends. A second criticism would point out that, 
assuming the desirability of the end, this end could be reached without 
the complicated and, in all respects, socially expensive caste apparatus now 
employed. This criticism, however adequate though it be on the practical 
or political plane of discussion, does not disprove that people believe other- 
wise, and that the popular theory is a true representation of their beliefs 
and actions. 

To undermine the popular theory of the caste mechanism, as based on 
the anti-amalgamation maxim, it would, of course, be necessary to prove 
that people really are influenced by other motives than the ones pro- 
nounced. Much material has, as we shall find, been brought together indicat- 
ing that, among other things, competitive economic interests, which do not 
figure at all in the popular rationalization referred to, play a decisive role. 
The announced concern about racial purity is, when this economic motive 
it taken into account, no longer awarded the exclusive role as the basic 
cause in the psychology of the race problem. 

Though the popular theory of color caste turns out to be a rationaliza- 
tion, this does not destroy it. For among the forces in the minds of the 
white people are certainly not only economic interests (if these were the 
only ones, the popular theory would be utterly demolished), but also 
sexual urges, inhibitions, and jealousies, and social fears and cravings for 
prestige and security. When they come under the scrutiny of scientific 
research, both the sexual and the social complexes take on unexpected 
designs. We shall then also get a clue to understanding the remarkable 
tendency of this presumably biological doctrine, that it refers only to 
legal marriage and to relations between Negro men and white women, 
but not to extra-marital sex relations between white men and Negro women. 

However these sexual and social complexes might turn out when 
analyzed, they will reveal the psychological nature of the anti-amalgama- 
tion doctrine and show its "meaning." They will also explain the com- 
pressed emotion attached to the Negro problem. It is inherent in our type 
of modern Western civilization that sex and social status are for most indi- 
viduals the danger points, the directions whence he fears the sinister 
onslaughts on his personal security. These two factors are more likely than 
anything else to push a life problem deep down into the subconscious and 
load it with emotions. There is some probability that in America both com- 



60 An American Dilemma 

plexes are particularly laden with emotions. The American puritan tradi- 
tion gives everything connected with sex a higher emotional charge. The 
roads for social climbing have been kept more open in America than 
perhaps anywhere else in the world, but in this upward struggle the com- 
petition for social status has also become more absorbing. In a manner 
and to a degree most uncomfortable for the Negro people in America, both 
the sexual and the social complexes have become related to the Negro 
problem. 

These complexes are most of the time kept concealed. In occasional 
groups of persons and situations they break into the open. Even when not 
consciously perceived or expressed, they ordinarily determine interracial be- 
havior on the white side. 

4. The "Rank Order of Discriminations" 

The anti-amalgamation doctrine represents a strategic constellation of 
forces in race relations. Their charting will allow us a first general overview 
of the discrimination patterns and will have the advantage that white 
Americans themselves will recognize their own paths on the map we draw. 
When white Southerners are asked to rank, in order of importance, various 
types of discrimination,* they consistently present a list in which these types 
of discrimination are ranked according to the degree of closeness of their 
relation to the anti-amalgamation doctrine. This rank order — which will 
be referred to as "the "white man's rank order of discriminations" — will 
serve as an organizing principle in this book. It appears, actually, only as an 
elaboration of the popular theory of color caste sketched above. Like that 
theory, it is most clearly and distinctly perceived in the South ; in the North 
ideas are more vague but, on the whole, not greatly divergent. Neither the 
popular theory of caste nor the rank order of discriminations has been 
noted much in scientific literature on the Negro problem. 

The rank order held nearly unanimously is the following: 

Rank 1. Highest in this order stands the bar against intermarriage and sexual inter- 
course involving white women. 

Rank 2. Next come the several etiquettes and discriminations, which specifically 
concern behavior in personal relations. (These are the barriers against 
dancing, bathing, eating, drinking together, and social intercourse generally; 
peculiar rules as to handshaking, hat lifting, use of titles, house entrance 
to be used, social forms when meeting on streets and in work, and so forth. 
These patterns are sometimes referred to as the denial of "social equality" 
in the narrow meaning of the term.) 

* la this introductory sketch the distinction between "segregation" and "discrimination" 
is entirely disregarded. This distinction, signified by the popular theory and legal construct 
"separate but equal," is mainly to be regarded as an equalitarian rationalization on the part 
of the white Americans, indicating the fundamental conflict of valuations involved in the 
matter. "Segregation" means only separation and does not, in principle, imply "discrimin- 
ation." In practice it almost always does. (See Chapter 28.) 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 61 

Ran!: 3. Thereafter follow the segregations and discriminations in use of public 

facilities such as schools, churches and means of conveyance. 
Rank 4. Next comes political disfranchisement. 
Rank 5. Thereafter come discriminations in law courts, by the police, and by other 

public servants. 
Rank 6. Finally come the discriminations in securing land, credit, jobs, or other 

means of earning a living, and discriminations in public relief and other 

social welfare activities. 

It is unfortunate that this cornerstone in our edifice of basic hypotheses, 
like many of our other generalizations, has to be constructed upon the 
author's observations. 8 It is desirable that scientifically controlled, 
quantitative knowledge be substituted for impressionistic judgments as soon 
as possible." It should be noted that the rank order is very apparently 
determined by the factors of sex and social status, so that the closer the 
association of a type of interracial behavior is to sexual and social inter- 
course on an equalitarian basis, the higher it ranks among the forbidden 
things. 

Next in importance to the fact of the white man's rank order of dis- 
criminations is the fact that the Negro's own rank order is just about 
■parallel, but inverse, to that of the white man. The Negro resists least the 
discrimination on the ranks placed highest in the white man's evaluation and 
resents most any discrimination on the lowest level. This is in accord with 
the Negro's immediate interests. Negroes are in desperate need of jobs and 
bread, even more so than of justice in the courts, and of the vote. These 
latter needs are, in their turn, more urgent even than better schools and 
playgrounds, or, rather, they are primary means of reaching equality in the 
use of community facilities. Such facilities are, in turn, more important 
than civil courtesies. The marriage matter, finally, is of rather distant and 
doubtful interest. 

Such reflections are obvious; and most Negroes have them in their minds. 
It is another matter, however, whether the white man is prepared to stick 
honestly to the rank order which he is so explicit and emphatic in announc- 
ing. The question is whether he is really prepared to give the Negro a good 
job, or even the vote, rather than to allow him entrance to his front door 
or to ride beside him in the street car. 

Upon the assumption that this question is given an affirmative answer, 
that the white man is actually prepared to carry out in practice the implica- 
tions of his theories, this inverse relationship between the Negro's and the 
white man's rank orders becomes of strategical importance in the practical 
and political sphere of the Negro problem. Although not formulated in this 
way, such a relationship, or such a minimum moral demand on the ordinary 
white man, has always been the basis of all attempts to compromise and 
come to a better understanding between leaders of the two groups. It has 



6i An American Dilemma 

been the basis for all interracial policy and also for most of the practical 
work actually carried out by Negro betterment organizations. Followed to 
its logical end, it should fundamentally change the race situation in 
America. 

It has thus always been a primary requirement upon every Negro leader 
— who aspires to get any hearing at all from the white majority group, and 
who does not want to appear dangerously radical to the Negro group and 
at the same time hurt the "race pride" it has built up as a defense — that 
he shall explicitly condone the anti-amalgamation maxim, which is the 
keystone in the white man's structure of race prejudice, and forbear to 
express any desire on the part of the Negro people to aspire to inter- 
marriage with the whites. The request for intermarriage is easy for the 
Negro leader to give up. Intermarriage cannot possibly be a practical object 
of Negro public policy. Independent of the Negroes' wishes, the opportun- 
ity for intermarriage is not favorable as long as the great majority of the 
white population dislikes the very idea. As a defense reaction a strong 
attitude against intermarriage has developed in the Negro people itself. 10 
And the Negro people have no interest in defending the exploitative illicit 
relations between white men and Negro women. This race mingling is, 
on the contrary, commonly felt among Negroes to be disgraceful. And it 
often arouses the jealousy of Negro men. 

The required soothing gesture toward the anti-amalgamation doctrine 
is, therefore, readily delivered. It is iterated at every convenient oppor- 
tunity and belongs to the established routine of Negro leadership. For 
example, Robert R. Moton writes: 

As for amalgamation, very few expect it; still fewer want it; no one advocates it; 
and only a constantly diminishing minority practise it, and that surreptitiously. It is 
generally accepted on both sides of the colour line that it is best for the two races 
to remain ethnologically distinct. 11 

There seems thus to be unanimity among Negro leaders on the point 
deemed crucial by white Americans. If we attend carefully, we shall, how- 
ever, detect some important differences in formulation. The Negro spokes- 
man will never, to begin with, accept the common white premise of racial 
inferiority of the Negro stock. To quote Moton again: 

. . . even in the matter of the mingling of racial strains, however undesirable it 
might seem to be from a social point of view, he [the Negro] would never admit 
that hit blood carries any taint of. physiological, mental, or spiritual inferiority. 12 

'A doctrine of equal natural endowments — a doctrine contrary to the white 
man*« assumption of Negro inferiority, which is at the basis of the anti- 
amalgamation theory — has been consistently upheld. If a Negro leader 
publicly even hinted at the possibility of inherent racial inferiority, he 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 63 

would immediately lose his following. The entire Negro press watches the 
Negro leaders on this point. ' 

Even Booker T. Washington, the supreme diplomat of the Negro people 
through a generation filled with severe trials, who was able by studied 
unobtrusivencss to wring so many favors from the white majority, never 
dared to allude to such a possibility, though he sometimes criticized most 
severely his own people for lack of thrift, skill, perseverance and general 
culture. In fact, there is no reason to think that he did not firmly believe 
in the fundamental equality of inherent capacities. Privately, local Negro 
leaders might find it advisable to admit Negro inferiority and, particularly 
earlier, many individual Negroes might have shared the white man's 
view. But it will not be expressed by national leaders and, in fact, never 
when they are under public scrutiny. 13 An emphatic assertion of equal 
endowments is article number one in the growing Negro "race pride." 

Another deviation of the Negro faith in the anti-amalgamation doctrine 
is the stress that they, for natural reasons, lay on condemning exploitative 
illicit amalgamation. They turn the tables and accuse white men of debasing 
Negro womanhood, and the entire white culture for not rising up against 
this practice as their expressed antagonism against miscegenation should 
demand. Here they have a strong point, and they know how to press it. 14 

A third qualification in the Negro's acceptance of the anti-amalgamation 
doctrine, expressed not only by the more "radical" and outspoken Negro 
leaders, is the assertion that intermarriage should not be barred by law. 
The respect for individual liberty is invoked as an argument. But, in 
addition, it is pointed out that this barrier, by releasing the white man 
from the consequences of intimacy with a Negro woman, actually has the 
effect of inducing such intimacy and thus tends to increase miscegenation. 
Moton makes this point: 

The Negro woman suffers not only from the handicap of economic and social 
discriminations imposed upon the race as a whole, but is in addition the victim of 
unfavourable legislation incorporated in the marriage laws of twenty-nine states, 
which forbid the intermarriage of black and white. The disadvantage of these 
statutes lies, not as is generally represented, in the legal obstacle they present to social 
equality, but rather in the fact that such laws specifically deny to the Negro woman 
and her offspring that safeguard from abuse and exploitation with which the women 
of the white race are abundantly surrounded. On the other side, the effect of such 
legislation leaves the white man, who is so inclined, free of any responsibility 
attending his amatory excursions across the colour line and leaves the coloured woman 
without redress for any of the consequences of her defencelessness; whereas white 
women have every protection, from fine and imprisonment under the law to enforced 
marriage and lynching outside the law. 10 

But even with all these qualifications, the anti-amalgamation doctrine, 
the necessity of assenting to which is understood by nearly' everybody, 



64 An American Dilemma 

obviously encounters some difficulties in the minds of intellectual Negroes. 
They can hardly be expected to accept it as a just rule of conduct. They 
tend to accept it merely as a temporary expedient necessitated by human 
weakness. Kelly Miller thus wrote: 

. . . you would hardly expect the Negro, in derogation of his common human 
qualities, to proclaim that he is so diverse from God's other human creatures as to 
make the blending of the races contrary to the law of nature. The Negro refuses to 
become excited or share in your frenzy on this subject. The amalgamation of the 
races is an ultimate possibility, though not an immediate probability. But what have 
you and I to do with ultimate questions, anyway? 16 

And a few years later, he said: 

It must be taken for granted in the final outcome of things thai the color line 
will be wholly obliterated. While blood may be thicker than water, it docs not possess 
the spissitudc or inherency of everlasting principle. The brotherhood of man is 
more fundamental than the fellowship of race. A physical and spiritual identity of 
all peoples occupying common territory is a logical necessity of thought. The clear 
seeing mind refuses to yield or give its assent to any other ultimate conclusion. This 
consummation, however, is far too removed from the sphere of present probability 
to have decisive influence upon practical procedure. 17 

This problem is, of course, tied up with the freedom of the individual. 
"Theoretically Negroes would all subscribe to the right of freedom ol 
choice in marriage even between the two races," 18 wrote Moton. And Du 
Bois formulates it in stronger terms: 

... a woman may say, 1 do not want to marry this black man, or this red man, or 
this white man. . . . But the impudent and vicious demand that all colored folk 
shall write themselves down as brutes by a general assertion of their unfitness to 
marry other decent folk is a nightmare. 19 

Negroes have always pointed' out that the white man must not be very 
certain of his woman's lack of interest when he rises to such frenzy on 
behalf of the danger to her and feels compelled to build up such formid- 
able fences to prevent her from marrying a Negro. 

With these reservations both Negro leadership and the Negro masses 
acquiesce in the white anti-amalgamation doctrine. This attitude is noted 
with satisfaction in the white camp. The writer has observed, however, 
that the average white man, particularly in the South, does not feel quite 
convinced of the Negro's acquiescence. In several conversations, the same 
white person, in the same breath, has assured me, on the one hand, that the 
Negroes are perfectly satisfied in their position and would not like to be 
treated as equals, and on the other hand, that the only thing these Negroes 
long for is to be like white people and to marry their daughters. 

Whereas the Negro spokesman finds it possible to assent to the first 
rank of discrimination, namely, that involving miscegenation, it is more 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 65 

difficult for him to give his approval to the second rank of discrimination, 
namely, that involving "etiquette" and consisting in the white man's 
refusal to extend the ordinary courtesies to Negroes in daily life and his 
expectation of receiving certain symbolic signs of submissivencss from the 
Negro. The Negro leader could not do so without serious risk of censor- 
ship by his own people and rebuke by the Negro press. In all articulate 
group:: of Negroes there is a demand to have white men call them by their 
titles of Mr., Mrs., and Miss; to have white men take off their hats on 
entering a Negro's house; to be able to enter a white man's house through 
the front door rather than the back door, and so on. But on the whole, and 
in spite of the rule that they stand up for "social equality" in this sense, 
most Negroes in the South obey the white man's rules. 

Booker T. Washington went a long way, it is true, in his Atlanta speech 
in 1895 where he explained that: "In all things that are purely social we 
[the two races] can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all 
things essential to mutual progress."" He there seemed to condone not 
only these rules of "etiquette" but also the denial of "social equality" in 
a broader sense, including some of the further categories in the white man's 
rank order of discrimination. He himself was always most eager to observe 
the rules. But Washington was bitterly rebuked for this capitulation, 
particularly by Negroes in the North. And a long time has passed since 
then; the whole spirit in the Negro world has changed considerably in 
:hree decades. 

The modern Negro leader will try to solve this dilemma by iterating 
that no Negroes want to intrude upon white people's private lives. But 
this is not what Southern white opinion asks for. It is not satisfied with 
the natural rules of polite conduct that no individual, of whatever race, 
shall push his presence on a society where he is not wanted. It asks for a 
general order according to which all Negroes are placed under all white 
people and excluded from not only the white man's society but also from 
the ordinary symbols of respect. No Negro shall ever aspire to them, and 
no white shall be allowed to offer them. 

Thus, on this second rank of discrimination there is a wide gap between 
the ideologies of the two groups. As we then continue downward in our 
rank order and arrive at the ordinary Jim Crow practices, the segregation 
in schools, the disfranchisement, and the discrimination in employment, we 
find, on the one hand, that increasingly larger groups of white people are 
prepared to take a stand against these discriminations. Many a liberal white 
professor in the South who, for his own welfare, would not dare to entertain 
a Negro in his home and perhaps not even speak to him in a friendly man- 
ner on the street, will be found prepared publicly to condemn disfranchise- 
ment, lynching, and the forcing of the Negro' out of employment. Also, 
on the other hand, Negro spokesmen are becoming increasingly firm in 



66 An American Dilemma 

their opposition to discrimination on these lower levels. It is principally em 
these lower levels of the white man's rank order of discriminations that 
the race struggle goes on. The struggle will widen to embrace all the 
thousand problems of education, politics, economic standards, and so forth, 
and the frontier will shift from day to day according to varying events. 

Even a superficial view of discrimination in America will reveal to the 
observer: first, that there are great differences, not only between larger 
regions, but between neighboring communities; and, second, that even in 
the same community, changes occur from one time to another. There is 
also, contrary to the rule that all Negroes are to be treated alike, a certain 
amount of discretion depending upon the class and social status of the 
Negro in question. A white person, especially if he has high status in the 
community, is, furthermore, supposed to be free, within limits, to overstep 
the rules. The rules are primarily to govern the Negro's behavior. 

Some of these differences and changes can be explained. But the need 
for their interpretation is perhaps less than has sometimes been assumed. 
Hie variations in discrimination between local communities or from one 
tune to another are often not of primary consequence. All of these thousand 
and one precepts, etiquettes, taboos, and disabilities inflicted upon the Negro 
have a common purpose: to express the subordinate status of the Negro 
people and the exalted position of the whites. They have their meaning and 
chief function as symbols. As symbols they are, however, interchangeable 
to an extent: one can serve in place of another without causing material 
difference in the essential social relations in the community. 

The differences in patterns of discrimination between the larger regions 
of the country and the temporal changes of patterns within one region, 
Which reveal a definite trend, have, on the contrary, more material import. 
These differences and changes imply, in fact, a considerable margin of 
variation within the very notion of American caste, which is not true of 
all the other minor differences between the changes in localities within a 
single region — hence the reason for a clear distinction. For exemplification 
it may suffice here to refer only to the differentials in space. As one moves 
|rom the Deep South through the Upper South and the Border states to 
the North, the manifestations of discrimination decrease in extent and 
intensity; at the same time the rules become more uncertain and capricious. 
"ijlhe "color line" becomes a broad ribbon of arbitrariness. The old New 
England states stand, on the whole, as the antipode to the Deep South. 
This generalization requires important qualifications, and the relations are 
in process of change. 

•«' The decreasing discrimination as we go from South to North in the 
United States is apparently related to a weaker jbask prejudice. In the 
North the Negroes have fair justice and are not disfranchised; they are 
not Jim-Crowed in public means of conveyance; educational institutions 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 67 

are less segregated. The interesting thing is that the decrease of discrim- 
ination does not regularly follow the white man's rank order. Thus inter- 
marriage, placed on the top of the rank order, is legally permitted in all 
but one of the Northern states east of the Mississippi. The racial etiquette, 
being the most conspicuous element in the second rank, is, practically 
speaking, absent from the North. On the other hand, employment discrim- 
inations, placed at the bottom of the rank order, at times are equally 
severe, or more so, in some Northern communities than in the South, even 
if it is true that Negroes have been able to press themselves into many 
more new avenues of employment during the last generation in the North 
than in the South. 

There is plenty of discrimination in the North. But it is — or rather its 
rationalization is— kept hidden. We can, in the North, witness the legis- 
lators' obedience to the American Creed when they solemnly pass laws and 
regulations to condemn and punish such acts of discrimination which, as 
a matter of routine, are committed daily by the great majority of the 
white citizens and by the legislators themselves. In the North, as indeed 
often in the South, public speakers frequently pronounce principles of 
human and civic equality. We see here revealed in relief the Negro problem 
as an American Dilemma. 

5. Relationships Between Lower Class Groups 

It was important to compare the Negro problem with American minority 
problems in general because both the similarities and the dissimilarities are 
instructive. Comparisons give leads, and they furnish perspective. 

This same reason permits us to point out that the consideration of the 
Negro problem as one minority problem among others is far too narrow. 
The Negro has usually the same disadvantages and some extra ones in 
addition. To these other disadvantaged groups in America belong not 
only the groups recognized as minorities, but all economically weak classes 
in die nation, the bulk of the Southern people, women," and others. This 
country is a "white man's country," but, in addition, it is a country belong- 
ing primarily to the elderly, male, upper class, Protestant Northerner. 
Viewed in this setting the Negro problem in America is but one local and 
temporary facet of that eternal problem of world dimension — how to 
regulate the conflicting interests of groups in the best interest of justice 
and fairness. The latter ideals are vague and conflicting, and their meaning 
is changing in the course of the struggle. 

There seems to be a general structure of social relations between groups 
on different levels of power and advantage. From a consideration of our 

* The parallel between the status of Negroes and of women, who are neither a minority 
group not a low social class, is particularly instructive $ see Appendix 5, "A Parallel to til* 
Negro Problem." 



66 An American Dilemma 

exaggeratedly "typical" case—the Negro— we may hope to reach sonic 
suggestions toward a more satisfactory general theory about' this social 
power structure in general. Our hypothesis is that in a society where there 
are broad social classes and, in addition, more minute distinctions and 
splits in the lower strata, the lower class group will, to a great extent, take 
care of keeping each other subdued, thus relieving, to that extent, the 
higher classes of this otherwise painful task necessary to the monopolization 
of the power and the advantages. 

It wUl be observed that this hypothesis is contrary to the Marxian theory 
of class society, which in the period between the two World Wars has been 
so powerful, directly and indirectly, consciously and unconsciously, in 
American social science thinking generally. The Marxian scheme assumes 
that there is an actual solidarity between the several lower class groups 
against the higher classes, or, in any case, a potential solidarity which as a 
matter of natural development is bound to emerge. The inevitable result 
is a "class struggle" where all poor and disadvantaged groups are united 
behind the barricades. 

Such a construction has had a considerable vogue in all discussions on 
the American Negro problem since the First World War. We are not here 
taking issue with the political desirability of a common front between the 
poorer classes of whites and the Negro people who, for the most part, 
oelong to the proletariat. In fact, we can well see that such a practical 
judgment is motivated as a conclusion from certain value premises in line 
with the American Creed. But the thesis has also been given a theoretical 
content as describing actual trends in reality and not only political 
desiderata. A solidarity between poor whites and Negroes has been said 
to be "natural" and the conflicts to be due to "illusions." This thesis, 
which will be discussed in some detail in Chapter 38, has been a leading 
one in the field and much has been made of even the faintest demonstration 
of such solidarity. 

In partial anticipation of what is to follow later in this volume, we might 
be permitted to make a few general, and perhaps rather dogmatic, remarks 
in criticism of this theory. Everything we know about human frustration 
and aggression, and the displacement of aggression, speaks against it. For 
in individual to feel interest solidarity with a group assumes his psycho- 
logical identification with the group. This identification must be of con- 
siderable strength, as the very meaning of solidarity is that he is pre- 
pared to set aside and even sacrifice his own short-range private interests 
for the lofljg-Tange interests of his group. Every vertical split within the 
lower dais; aggregate will stand as an obstacle to the feeling of solidarity. 
Even within' the white working class itself, as within the entire American 
nation, the feeling of solidarity and loyalty is relatively low.* Despite the 

* See Chapter 33. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 69 

considerable mobility, especially in the North, the Negroes are held apart 
from the whites by caste, which furnishes a formidable bar to mutual 
identification and solidarity. 

It has often occurred to me, when reflecting upon the responses I get 
from white laboring people on this strategic question, that my friends among 
the younger Negro intellectuals, whose judgment I otherwise have 
learned to admire greatly, have perhaps, and for natural reasons, not had 
enough occasion to find out for themselves what a bitter, spiteful, and 
relentless feeling often prevails against the Negroes among lower class 
white people in America. Again relying upon my own observations, I have 
become convinced that the laboring Negroes do not resent whites in any 
degree comparable with the resentment shown in the opposite direction 
by the laboring whites. The competitive situation is, and is likely to remain, 
highly unstable. 

It must be admitted that, in the midst of harsh caste resentment, signs 
of newborn working class solidarity are not entirely lacking; we shall have 
to discuss these recent tendencies in some detail in order to evaluate the 
resultant trend and the prospects for the future." On this point there 
seems, however, to be a danger of wishful thinking present in most writ- 
ings on the subject. The Marxian solidarity between the toilers of all the 
earth will, indeed, have a long way to go as far as concerns solidarity of 
the poor white Americans with the toiling Negro. This is particularly true 
of the South but true also of the communities in the North where the 
Negroes are numerous and competing with the whites for employment. 

Our hypothesis is similar to the view taken by an older group of Negro 
writers and by most white writers who have touched this crucial question: 
that the Negro's friend — or the one who is least unfriendly — is still rather 
the upper class of white people, the people with economic and social security 
who are truly a "noncompeting group." There are many things in the 
economic, political, and social history of the Negro which are simply 
inexplicable by the Marxian theory of class solidarity but which fit into 
our hypothesis of the predominance of internal lower class struggle. Du 
Bois, in Black Reconstruction, argues that it would have been desirable 
if after the Civil War the landless Negroes and the poor whites had joined 
hands to retain political power and carry out a land reform and a progres- 
sive government in the Southern states} one sometimes feels that he thinks 
it would have been a possibility. 21 From our point of view such a possibility 
did not exist at all, and the negative outcome was neither an accident nor 
a result of simple deception or delusion. These two groups, illiterate and 
insecure in an impoverished South, placed in an intensified competition 
with each other, lacking every trace of primary solidarity, and marked off 
from each other by color and tradition, could not possibly be expected to 

'See Chapter it. 



: .."50 ,: ' . " Am Am8*ksah Bhjkmma 

clasp bands. There is a Swedish proverb: "When the leedbcoc is empty, 
the horses will bite each other. 1 * 

That part of the country where, even today, the Negro is dealt with 
most severely, the South, is also a disadvantaged and, in most respects, 
backward region in the nation. The Negro lives there in the midst of other 
relatively subordinated groups. Like the Negro, the entire South is a 
problem. We do not want to minimize other obvious explanations of the 
harsher treatment of the Negro in the South: his concentration there in 
large numbers, the tradition of subordination retained from slavery, and 
the traumatic effect of the Civil War and Reconstruction; but we do want 
to stress the fact that the masses of white Southerners are poor and to keep 
in mind the tendency of lower class groups to struggle against each other.* 

'.The great similarity in cultural situation — on a different level — between the Negro 
people in all America and the white South should not be overlooked. Many of the general 
thing! which can be said about the Negroes hold true, in large measure, of the white 
Southerners, or something quite similar can be asserted. Thus, just as the Negro sees him- 
self economically excluded and exploited, so the Southern white man has been trained to 
think of his economy as a colony for Yankee exploitation. As the Negro has been compelled 
to develop race pride and a "protective" community, so the white South has also a strong 
group feeling. The white South is also something of a nation within a nation. It is cer- 
tainly no accident that a "regional approach" in social science has been stressed in the 
South. The Southerner, like the Negro, is apt to be sensitive and to take any personal 
remark or observation as a rebuke, and a rebuke not only against himself but against the 
whole South. In analyzing himself, he finds the same general traits of extreme individualism 
and romanticism which are ascribed to the Negro. His educators and intellectual leaders 
find it necessary to complain of the same shortcomings in him as he finds in the Negro: 
violence, laziness, lack of thrift, lack of rational efficiency and respect for law and social 
order, lack of punctuality and respect for deadlines. The rickety rocking-chair ci the 
porch has a symbolic meaning in the South not entirely different from that of the Negro's 
watermelon, although there is more an association of gloom and dreariness around the 
former stereotype, and happy-go-lucky carefreeness around the latter. The expression 
••C J.T." — colored people's time — is often referred to in the South, but nearly as frequently 
it is jestingly suggested that it fits the folkways also of the white Southerners. The casual 
carrying of weapons, which is so associated in the Northerners' minds with the Negro, is 
commonplace among white Southerners. Both groups are on the average more religious 
than the rest of America, and the preacher is, or has been, more powerful in society. In 
jmth groups there is also a tendency toward fundamentalism and emotionalism, the former 
characteristic more important for the whites, the latter for the Negroes. The general 
educational level in the South has, for lack of school facilities, been lower than the 
national norm, and as a result an obvious double standard in favor of Southerners is 
Actually being applied by higher educational institutions and by such organizations as 
foundations awarding fellowships and encouraging research projects. The Yankee prejudice 
'.against the SflirtlMrften takes the form of a paternalistic favoring of a weaker group. The 
''white wrj|es||i4rf-.^»e South, like the Negro writers, are accustomed to work mainly for a 
! readers. And they .have, for the benefit of the out-group, exploited the 
Ice and oddness. During the 'twenties both groups had a literary renais- 
described in both cases as an emancipation from outside determinants and 
.. -_-hbound realism. This list could be continued to a considerable length, but 
k tea already been nude understandable both why the Negro in a way feels so much at 
la the South and why his lot there sometimes becomes so sad and even tragic. 




Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 71 

A few remarks are now relevant on the internal social stratification of 
the Negro group itself. The stratification of the Negro caste into classes 
is well developed and the significance attached to class distinctions is great 
This is not surprising in view of the fact that caste harriers, which prevent 
individuals of the lower group from rising out of it, force all social climbing 
to occur within the caste and encourage an increase in internal social com- 
petition for the symbols of prestige and power. Caste consigns the over- 
whelming majority of Negroes to the lower class. But at the same time as 
it makes higher class status rarer, it accentuates the desire for prestige and 
social distance within the Negro caste. It fact it sometimes causes a more 
minute class division than the ordinary one, and always invests it with 
more subjective importance." The social distinctions within a disadvantaged 
group for this reason become a fairly adequate index of the group's social 
isolation from the larger society. 

Caste produces, on the one hand, a strong feeling of mutuality of fate, 
of in-group fellowship — much stronger than a general low class position 
can develop. The Negro community is a protective community, and we 
shall> in the following chapters, see this trait reflected in practically all 
aspects of the Negro problem. But, on the other hand, the intcrclass 
strivings, often heightened to vigorous mutual repulsion and resentment, 
are equally conspicuous. 

Negro writers, especially newspapermen, particularly when directing 
themselves to a Negro audience, have always pointed out, as the great 
fault of the race, its lack of solidarity. The same note is struck in practically 
every public address and often in sermons when the preacher for a moment 
leaves his other-worldliness. It is the campaign cry of the organizations 
for Negro business. Everywhere one meets the same endless complaints: 
that the Negroes won't stick together, that they don't trust each other but 
rather the white man, that they can't plan and act in common, that they 
don't back their leaders, that the leaders can't agree, or that they deceive 
the people and sell out their interests to the whites. 

In order not to be dogmatic in a direction opposite to the one criticized, 
we should point out that the principle of internal struggle in the lower 
classes is only one social force among many. Other forces are making for 
solidarity in the lower classes. In both of the two problems raised— the 
solidarity between lower class whites and Negroes and the internal solidarity 
within the Negro group— there can be any degree of solidarity, ranging 
between utter mistrust and complete trustfulness. The scientific problem is 
to find out and measure the degree of solidarity and the social forces 
determining it, not just to assume that solidarity will come about << naturally ,, 
and "inevitably ." The factors making for solidarity are both irrational and 
rational. Among the irrational factors are tradition, fear, charisma, brute 

■See Chapter ja. 



^2 Am American Dilemma 

force, propaganda. The main rational factors are economic and social 
security and a planned program of civic education. 

While visiting in Southern Negro communities, the writer was forced 
to the observation that often the most effective Negro leaders— those with 
a rational balance of courage and restraint, a realistic understanding of the 
power situation, and an unfailing loyalty to the Negro cause — were federal 
employees (for example, postal clerks), petty railway officials, or other 
persons with their economic basis outside the local white or Negro com- 
munity and who had consequently a measure of economic security and 
some leisure time for thinking and studying. They were, unfortunately, 
few. Generally speaking, whenever the masses, in any part of the world, 
have permanently improved their social, economic, and political status 
through orderly organizations founded upon solidarity, these masses have 
not been a semi-illiterate proletariat, but have already achieved a measure 
of economic security and education. The vanguards of such mass reform 
movements have always belonged to the upper fringe of the lower classes 
concerned. 

If this hypothesis is correct and if the lower classes have interests in 
common, the steady trend in this country toward improved educational 
facilities and toward widened social security for the masses of the people 
will work for increased solidarity between the lower class groups. But 
changes in this direction will probably be slow, both because of some 
general factors impeding broad democratic mass movements in America" 
and — in our special problems, solidarity between whites and Negroes — 
because of the existence of caste. 

In this connection we must not forget the influence of ideological forces. 
And we must guard against the common mistake of reducing them solely 
to secondary expressions of economic interests. Independent (that is, 
independent of the economic interests involved in the Negro problem) 
ideological forces of a liberal character are particularly strong in America 
because of the central and influential position of the American Creed in 
people's valuations. 

It may be suggested as an hypothesis, already fairly well substantiated 
by research and by common observation, that those liberal ideological 
forces tend to create a tie between the problems of all disadvantaged groups 
in society, and that they work for solidarity between these groups. A study 
of opinions in the Negro problem will reveal, we believe, that persons 
who are inclined to favor measures to help the underdog generally, are 
also, and as a. pact of this attitude, usually inclined to give the Negro a lift. 
There is jujatrobtion between political opinions in different issues, 1 ' which 
probably seats upon, a basis of temperamental personality traits and has its 



* See Chapter 33. 

*F©r a ditcuMion of the correlation of opinion* in different utiles, tee Appendix *, 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 73 

deeper roqts in all the cultural influences working upon a personality. If 
this correlation is represented by a composite scale running from radicalism, 
through liberalism and conservatism, to reactionism, it is suggested that 
it will be found that all subordinate groups — Negroes, women, minorities 
in general, poor people, prisoners, and so forth — will find their interests 
more favored in political opinion as we move toward the left of the scale. 
This hypothesis of a system of opinion correlation will, however, have to 
be taken with a grain of salt, since this correlation is obviously far from 
complete. 

In general, poor people are not radical and not even liberal, though to 
have such political opinions would often be in their interest. Liberalism is 
not characteristic of Negroes either, except, of course, that they take a 
radical position in the Negro problem. We must guard against a superficial 
bias (probably of Marxian origin) which makes us believe that the lower 
classes are naturally prepared to take a broad point of view and a friendly 
attitude toward all disadvantaged groups. A liberal outlook is much more 
likely to emerge among people in a somewhat secure social and economic 
situation and with a background of education. The problem for political 
liberalism — if, for example, we might be allowed to pose the problem in 
the practical, instead of the theoretical mode — appears to be first to lift 
the masses to security and education and then to work to make them liberal. 

The South, compared to the other regions of America, has the least 
economic security, the lowest educational level, and is most conservative. 
The South's conservatism is manifested not only with respect to the Negrg 
problem but also with respect to all the other important problems of the 
last decades — woman suffrage, trade unionism, labor legislation, social 
security reforms, penal reforms, civil liberties — and with respect to broad 
philosophical matters, such as the character of religious beliefs and practices. 
Even at present the South does not have a full spectrum of political 
opinions represented within its public discussion. There are relatively few 
liberals in the South and practically no radicals." 

The recent economic stagnation (which for the rural South has lasted 
much more than ten years), the flood of social reforms thrust upon the 
South by the federal government, and the fact that the rate of industrial- 
ization in the South is higher than in the rest of the nation, may well come 
to cause an upheaval in the South's entire opinion structure. The importance 
of this for the Negro problem may be considerable." 

6. The Manifoldness and the Unity of the Negro Problem 

The Negro problem has the manifoldness of human life. Like the 
women's problem, it touches every other social issue, or rather, it repre- 
sents an angle of diem all. A glance at the table of contents of this volume 

'See Chapter 21, Section 5. 
' See Chapter ai, Sectios * 



74 An American Dilemma 

shows that in our attempt to analyze the Negro problem we haye not been 
able to avoid anything: race, culture, population, breadwinning, economic 
and social policy, law, crime, class, family, recreation, school, church,' press, 
organizations, politics, attitudes. 

The perplexities and manifoldness of the Negro problem have even 
increased considerably during the last generation. One reason is migration 
and industrialization. The Negro has left his seclusion. A much smaller 
portion of the Negro people of today lives in the static, rather inarticulate 
folk society of the old plantation economy. The Negro people have increas- 
ingly stepped into the midst of America's high-geared metropolitan life, 
and they have by their coming added to the complication of these already 
tremendously complicated communities. This mass movement of Negroes 
from farms to cities and from the South to the North has, contrary to 
expectation, kept up in bad times as in good, and is likely to continue. 

Another and equally important reason why the Negro problem shows 
an increasing involvement with all sorts of other special problems is the 
fact that America, especially during the last ten years, has started to use 
the state as an instrument for induced social change. The New Deal has 
actually changed the whole configuration of the Negro problem. Particu- 
larly when looked upon from the practical and political viewpoints, the 
contrast between the present situation and the one prior to the New Deal 
is striking. 

Until then the practical Negro problem involved civil rights, education, 
charity, and little more. Now it has widened, in pace with public policy in 
the new "welfare state," and involves housing, nutrition, medicine, educa- 
tion, relief and social security, wages and hours, working conditions, child 
and woman labor, and, lately, the armed forces and the war industries. 
The Negro's share may be meager in all this new state activity, but he 
has been given a share. He has been given a broader and more variegated 
front to defend and from which to push forward. This is the great import 
of the New Deal to the Negro. For almost the first time in the history of 
the nation the state has done something substantial in a social way without 
excluding the Negro. 

In this situation it has sometimes appeared as if there were no longer a 
Negro problem distinct from all the other social problems in the United 
States. In popular periodicals, articles on the general Negro problem gave 
way to much more specific subjects during the 'thirties. Even on the 
theoretical level it has occurred to many that it was time to stop studying 
the Negro problem in itself. The younger generation of Negro intellectuals . 
have become tired of all the talk about the Negro problem on which they 
. were brought up, and which sometimes seemed to them so barren of real 
deliveries. They started to criticize the older generation of Negroes for 
their obsession with the Negro problem. In many ways this was a move- 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 75 

ment which could be considered as the continuation, during the 'thirties, 
of the "New Negro Movement" of the 'twenties. 

We hear it said nowadays that there is no "race problem," but only a 
"class problem." The Negro sharecropper is alleged to be destitute not 
because of his color but because of his class position — and it is pointed out 
that there are white people who are equally poor. From a practical angle 
there is a point in this reasoning. But from a theoretical angle it contains 
escapism in new form." It also draws too heavily on the idealistic Marxian 
doctrine of the "class struggle." And it tends to conceal the whole system 
of special deprivations visited upon the Negro only because he is not white. 
We find also that as soon as the Negro scholar, ideologist, or reformer 
leaves these general ideas about how the Negro should think, he finds 
himself discussing nothing but Negro rights, the Negro's share, injustices 
against Negroes, discrimination against Negroes, Negro interests — nothing, 
indeed, but the old familiar Negro problem, though in some new political 
relations. He is back again in the "race issue." And there is substantial 
reason for it. 

The reason, of course, is that there is really a common tie and, therefore, 
a unity in all the special angles of the Negro problem. All these specific 
problems are only outcroppings of one fundamental complex of human 
valuations — that of American caste. This fundamental complex derives 
its emotional charge from the equally common race prejudice, from its 
manifestations in a general tendency toward discrimination, and from its 
political potentialities through its very inconsistency with the American 
Creed. 

7. The Theory of the Vicious Circle 

A deeper reason for the unity of the Negro problem will be apparent 
when we now try to formulate our hypothesis concerning its dynamic 
causation. The mechanism that operates here is the "principle of cumula- 
tion," also commonly called the "vicious circle." b This principle has a much 
wider application in social relations. It is, or should be developed into, a 
main theoretical tool in studying social change. 

Throughout this inquiry, we shall assume a general interdependence 
between all the factors in the Negro problem. White prejudice and 
discrimination keep the Negro low in standards of living, health, education, 
manners and morals. This, in its turn, gives support to white prejudice. 
White prejudice and Negro standards thus mutually "cause" each other. 
If thing9 remain about as they are and have been, this means that the two 

* See Chapter 38, Sections 5 to 7. 

" See Appendix 3, "A Methodological Note on the Principle of Cumulation." We call 
the principle the "principle of cumulation" rather than "vicious circle" because it can work 
in an "upward" desirable direction as well as in a "downward" undesirable direction. 



j6 An American Dilemma 

forces happen to balance each other. Such a static "accommodation" is, 
however, entirely accidental. If either of the factors changes, this will 
cause a change in the other factor, too, and start a process of interaction 
where the change in one factor will continuously be supported by the 
reaction of the other factor. The whole system will be moving in the 
direction of the primary change, but much further. This is what we mean 
by cumulative causation. 

If, for example, we assume that for some reason white prejudice could 
be decreased and discrimination mitigated, this is likely to cause a rise in 
Negro standards, which may decrease white prejudice still a little more, 
which would again allow Negro standards to rise, and so on through 
mutual interaction. If, instead, discrimination should become intensified, we 
should see the vicious circle spiraling downward. The original change can 
as easily be a change of Negro standards upward or downward. The effects 
would, in a similar manner, run back and forth in the interlocking system 
of interdependent causation. In any case, the initial change would be 
supported by consecutive waves of back-effects from the reactions of the 
other factor. 

The same principle holds true if we split one of our two variables into 
component factors. A rise in Negro employment, for instance, will raise 
family incomes, standards of nutrition, housing, and health, the possibil- 
ities of giving the Negro youth more education, and so forth, and all these 
effects of the initial change, will, in their turn, improve the Negroes' 
possibilities of getting employment and earning a living. The original push 
could have been on some other factor than employment, say, for example, 
an improvement of health or educational facilities for Negroes. Through 
action and interaction the whole system of the Negro's "status" would 
have been set in motion in the direction indicated by the first push. Much 
the same thing holds true of the development of white prejudice. Even 
assuming no changes in Negro standards, white prejudice can change, for 
example, as a result of an increased general knowledge about biology, 
eradicating some of the false beliefs among whites concerning Negro racial 
inferiority. If this is accomplished, it will in some degree censor the hostile 
and derogatory valuations which fortify the false beliefs, and education will 
then be able to fight racial beliefs with more success. 

By this we have only wanted to give a hint of an explanatory scheme of 
dynamic causation which we are going to utilize throughout this inquiry. 
As pointed out in Appendix 3, and as we shall find in later chapters, the 
interrelations are in reality much more complicated than in our abstract 
illustrations, and there are all sorts of irregularities in the reaction of 
* various factors. But the complications should not force us to give up our 
main hypothesis that a cumulative principle is working in social change. It 
is actually this hypothesis which gives a theoretical meaning to the Negro 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 77 

problem as a special phase of all other social problems in America. Behind 
the barrier of common discrimination, there is unity and close interrelation 
between the Negro's political power; his civil rights; his employment 
opportunities; his standards of housing, nutrition and clothing; his health, 
manners, and law observance; his ideals and ideologies. The unity is largely 
the result of cumulative causation binding them all together in a system 
and tying them to white discrimination. It is useful, therefore, to interpret 
all the separate factors from a central vantage point — the point of view 
of the Negro problem. 

Another corollary from our hypothesis is practical. In the field of Negro 
politics any push upward directed on any one of those factors — if our main 
hypothesis is correct — moves all other factors in the same direction and 
has, through them, a cumulative effect upon general Negro status. An 
upward trend of Negro status in general can be effected by any number 
of measures, rather independent of where the initial push is localized. By 
the process of cumulation it will be transferred through the whole system. 

But, as in the field of economic anti-depression policy, it matters a lot 
how the measures are proportioned and applied. The directing and 
proportioning of the measures is the task of social engineering. This 
engineering should be based on a knowledge of how all the factors 
are actually interrelated: what effect a primary change upon each factor 
will have on all other factors. It can be generally stated, however, 
that it is likely that a rational policy will never work by changing 
only one factor, least of all if attempted suddenly and with great force. 
In most cases that would either throw the system entirely out of gear or 
else prove to be a wasteful expenditure of effort which could reach much 
further by being spread strategically over various factors in the system and 
over a period of time. 

This — and the impracticability of getting political support for a great 
and sudden change of just one factor — is the rational refutation of so-called 
panaceas. Panaceas are now generally repudiated in the literature on the 
Negro problem, though usually without much rational motivation. There 
still exists, however, another theoretical idea which is similar to the idea 
of panacea: the idea that there is one predominant factor, a "basic factor." 
Usually the sc-called "economic factor" is assumed to be this basic factor. 
A vague conception of economic determinism has, in fact, come to color 
most of the modern writings on the Negro problem far outside the Marxist 
school. Such a view has unwarrantedly acquired the prestige of being a 
particularly "hard-boiled" scientific approach. 

As we look upon the problem of dynamic social causation, this approach 
is unrealistic and narrow. We do not, of course, deny that the conditions 
under which Negroes are allowed to earn a living are tremendously 
important for their welfare. But these conditions are closely interrelated 



78 An American Dilemma 

to all other conditions of Negro life. When studying the variegated causes 
of discrimination in the labor market, it is, indeed, difficult to perceive what 
precisely is meant by "the economic factor." The Negro's legal and political 
status and all the causes behind this, considerations by whites of social 
prestige, and everything else in the Negro problem belong to the causation 
of discrimination in the labor market, in exactly the same way as the 
Negro's low economic status is influential in keeping down his health, his 
educational level, his political power, and his status in other respects. 
Neither from a theoretical point of view — in seeking to explain the Negro's 
caste status in American society — nor from a practical point of view — in 
a tempting to assign the strategic points which can most effectively be 
attacked in order to raise his status — is there any reason, or, indeed, any 
possibility of singling out "the economic factor" as basic. In an interde- 
pendent system of dynamic causation there is no "primary cause" but 
everything is cause to everything else. 

If this theoretical approach is bound to do away in the practical sphere 
with all panaceas, it is, on the other hand, equally bound to encourage the 
reformer. The principle of cumulation — in so far as it holds true — promises 
final effects of greater magnitude than the efforts and costs of the reforms 
themselves. The low status of the Negro is tremendously wasteful all 
around — the low educational standard causes low earnings and health 
deficiencies, for example. The cumulatively magnified eftect of a push 
upward on any one of the relevant factors is, in one sense, a demonstration 
and a measure of the earlier existing waste. In the end, the cost of raising 
the status of the Negro may not involve any "real costs" at all for society, 
but instead may result in great "social gains" and actual savings for society. 
A movement downward will, for the same reason, increase "social waste" 
out of proportion to the original saving involved in the push downward 
of one factor or another. 

These dynamic concepts of "social waste," "social gain," and "real costs" 
are mental tools originated in the practical man's workshop. To give them 
a clearer meaning — which implies expressing also the underlying social 
value premises — and to measure them in quantitative terms represents 
from a practical viewpoint a main task of social science. Fulfilling that task 
in a truly comprehensive way is a stage of dynamic social theory still to be 
reached but definitely within vision. 

8. A Theory of Democracy 

The factors working on the white side in our system of dynamic causation 
were brought together under the heading "race prejudice." For our present 
purpose, it is defined as discrimination by whites against Negroes. One 
viewpoint on race prejudice needs to be presented at this point, chiefly 
because of its dose relation to our hypothesis of cumulative causation. 



Chapter 3. Facets of the Negro Problem 79 

The chemists talk about "irreversible processes," meaning a trait of a 
chemical process to go in one direction with ease but, for all practical 
purposes, to be unchangeable back to its original state (as when a house 
burns down). When we observe race prejudice as it appears in American 
daily life, it is difficult to avoid the reflection that it seems so much easier 
to increase than to decrease race prejudice. One is reminded of the old 
saying that nineteen fresh apples do not make a single rotten apple fresh, 
but that one rotten apple rapidly turns the fresh ones rotten. When we 
come to consider the various causative factors underlying race prejudice — 
economic competition; urges and fears for social status; and sexual drives, 
fears, jealousies, and inhibitions — this view will come to be understandable. 
It is a common observation that the white Northerner who settles in the 
South will rapidly take on the stronger race prejudice of the new sur- 
roundings; while the Southerner going North is likely to keep his race 
prejudice rather unchanged and perhaps even to communicate it to those 
he meets. The Northerner 111 the South will find the whole community 
intent upon his conforming to local patterns. The Southerner in the North 
will not meet such concerted action, but will feel, rather, that others are 
adjusting toward him wherever he goes. If the local hotel in a New 
England town has accommodated a few Negro guests without much worry 
one way or the other, the appearance one evening of a single white guest 
who makes an angry protest against it might permanently change the 
policy of the hotel. 

If we assume that a decrease in race prejudice is desirable — on grounds 
of the value premise of the American Creed and of the mechanism of 
cumulative wastage just discussed — such a general tendency, inherent in the 
psychology of race prejudice, would be likely to force us to a pessimistic 
outlook. One would expect a constant tendency toward increased race 
prejudice, and the interlocking causation with the several factors on the 
Negro side would be expected to reinforce the movement. Aside from all 
valuations, the question must be raised: Why is race prejudice, in spite of 
this tendency to continued intensification which we have observed, never- 
theless, on the whole not increasing but decreasing? 

This question is, in fact, only a special variant of the enigma of philos- 
ophers for several thousands of years: the problem of Good and Evil 
in the world. One h reminded of that cynical but wise old man, Thomas 
Hobbes, who proved rather conclusively that, while any person's actual 
possibilities to improve the lot of his fellow creatures amounted to almost 
nothing, everyone's opportunity to do damage was always immense. The 
wisest and most virtuous man will hardly leave a print in the sand behind 
him, meant Hobbes, but an imbecile crank can set fire to a whole town. 
Why is the world, then, not steadily and rapidly deteriorating, but rather, 
at least over long periods, progressing? Hobbes raised this question. His 



80 An American Dilemma 

answer was, as we know: the State, Leviathan. Our own tentative answer 
to the more specific but still overwhelmingly general question we have 
raised above will have something in common with that of the post- Eliza- 
bethan materialist and hedonist, but it will have its stress placed differently, 
as we shall subsequently see. 

Two principal points will be made by way of a preliminary and hypo- 
thetical answer, as they influence greatly our general approach to the Negro 
problem. The first point is the American Creed, the relation of which to 
the Negro problem will become apparent as our inquiry proceeds. The 
Creed of progress, liberty, equality, and humanitarianism is not so unin- 
fluential on everyday life as might sometimes appear. 

The second point is the existence in society of huge institutional struc- 
tures like the church, the school, the university, the foundation, the trade 
union, the association generally, and, of course, the state. It is true, as we 
shall find, that these institutional structures in their operation show an 
accommodation to local and temporary interests and prejudices — they could 
not be expected to do otherwise as they are made up of individuals with 
all their local and temporary characteristics. As institutions they are, how- 
ever, devoted to certain broad ideals. It is in these institutions that the 
American Creed has its instruments: it plays upon them as on mighty 
organs. In adhering to these ideals, the institutions show a pertinacity, 
matched only by their great flexibility in local and temporary accommo- 
dation. 

The school, in every community, is likely to be a degree more broad- 
minded than local opinion. So is the sermon in church. The national labor 
assembly is prone to decide slightly above the prejudice of the median 
member. Legislation will, on the whole, be more equitable than the legis- 
lators are themselves as private individuals. When the man in the street 
acts through his orderly collective bodies, he acts more as an American, as 
a Christian, and as a humanitarian than if he were acting independently. 
He thus shapes social controls which are going to condition even himself. 

Through these huge institutional structures, a constant pressure is 
brought to bear on race prejudice, counteracting the natural tendency for 
it to spread and become more intense. The same people are acting in the 
institutions as when manifesting personal prejudice. But they obey different 
moral valuations on different planes of life. In their institutions they have 
invested more than their everyday ideas which parallel their actual be- 
havior. They have placed in them their ideals of how the world rightly 
ought to be. The ideals thereby gain fortifications of power and influence in 
society. This is a theory of social self-healing that applies to the type of 
'society We call democracy. 



Part II 
RACE 



CHAPTER 4 

RACIAL BELIEFS 



i. Biology and Moral Equalitarianism 

Few problems are more heavily loaded with political valuations and, 
consequently, wishful thinking than the controversy concerning the relative 
importance of nature and nurture. Opinions on this question signify more 
than anything else where each of us stands on the scale between extreme 
conservatism and radicalism. The liberal is inclined to believe that it is 
the occasion that makes the thief, while the conservative is likely to hold 
that the thief is likely to create the occasion. The individual and society 
can, therefore, according to the liberal, be purposively improved through 
education and social reform. The conservative, on the other hand, thinks 
that it is "human nature" and not its environment which, on the whole, 
makes individuals and society what they are. He sees therein a reason and 
a justification for his skepticism in regard to reforms.* 

The liberalism of the Enlightenment which later developed such strong 
roots in this country tended to minimize the differences between individuals 
and peoples as to inborn capacities and aptitudes. To Locke, the newborn 
child was a tabula rasa upon which the "sensations" — that is, in modern 
language, the entirety of life experiences — made their imprint. Environ- 
ment was thus made supreme. As to the inborn capacities and inclinations, 
men were, on the whole, supposed to be similar j apparent differences were 
of cultural origin, and men could be changed through education. This 
was the basis for the philosophical radicalism and the rationalistic optimism 
which French, and also some English, writers developed during the 
eighteenth century. Individual differences in mental traits were sometimes 
recognized. But so far as groups of people were concerned — social classes, 
nations, and what was beginning to be called "races" — equality of natural 
endowments was the general assumption. 

It should be remembered that these philosophers were primarily reacting 

'The generalization expressed in this paragraph hat its exceptions. Though it is hardly 
possible to be a true biological determinist and yet a political liberal, it is possible to be 
an environmentalist and yet a conservative. The easiest rationalization in the latter case is 
to perceive of the environment as very tough against politically induced changes. William 
Sumner and his theory of mores is the classical American example of such a marriage 
between a radical environmentalism and an extreme political conservatism. (See Appendix a.) 

«1 



84 An American Dilemma 

against that particular extension of feudalism into modern times which 
was represented in their home countries by the theories of mercantilism 
and the social order of estates and privileges. Dissimilar minority races 
were not much in the foreground of their political thinking, but social 
classes were. The upper classes in England and France, as everywhere 
else, developed a vague popular theory that the lower classes, urban 
proletariat, and rural peasantry were less well endowed by nature." It 
was against this convenient belief that the radical philosophers of the 
Enlightenment reacted. Their main interest was, however, not naturalistic 
but moralistic. Equality in "natural rights of man," rather than equality in 
natural endowments, was central in their thought. 

The former equality was, of course, not necessarily made dependent 
upon the latter. Even if some people were weaker, the moral philosophers 
did not think that this was a sound reason for giving them less protection 
in their natural rights. But the radical and optimistic belief in the possibility 
of social improvement, which they also held, did require the environment- 
alistic assumption. Thus a strong tendency toward a belief in natural 
equality became associated with the doctrine of moral equality in the 
philosophy of the Enlightenment. 

When transferred to America the equality doctrine became even more 
bent toward the moral sphere. There are several reasons for this. Origin- 
ally the doctrine had a function in the political disputes with the mother 
country, England. These disputes concerned rights and not natural endow- 
ments. The strong impact of religion in America following the Revolution 
is another reason. A third reason was the actual presence within America 
of a different "race." 

There is thus no doubt that the declaration that all men were "created 
equal" and, therefore, endowed with natural rights has to be understood 
in the moral sense that they were born equal as to human rights. Neverthe- 
less, the moral equality doctrine carried with it, even in America, a tendency 
toward a belief in biological equalitarianism. Among the educated classes, 
race prejudice was low in the generation around the Revolution. This is 
easily seen even by a superficial survey of the American political literature 
of the age. 

2. The Ideological Clash in America 

When the Negro was first enslaved, his subjugation was not justified in 
terms of. his biological inferiority. Prior to the influences of the Enlighten- 
ment, human servitude was taken as a much more unquestioned element 
in the easting order of economic classes and social estates, since this way 

' It -should be noted that just as a biological rationalization was then and is now invoked 
to justify class, so arguments concerning the "social order" have always been employed 
to justify Negro slavery and, later, color caste. (See Chapter 28, Section 5.) 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 85 

of thinking was taken over from feudal and post-feudal Europe. The 
historical literature on this early period also records that the imported 
Negroes — and the captured Indians — originally were kept in much the 
same status as the white indentured servants. 1 When later the Negroes 
gradually were pushed down into chattel slavery while the white servants 
were allowed to work off their bond, the need was felt, in this Christian 
country, for some kind of justification above mere economic expediency 
and the might of the strong. The arguments called forth by this need 
were, however, for a time not biological in character, although they later 
easily merged into the dogma of natural inequality. The arguments were 
broadly these: that the Negro was a heathen and a barbarian, an outcast 
among the peoples of the earth, a descendant of Noah's son Ham, cursed 
by God himself and doomed to be a servant forever on account of an 
ancient sin. 2 

The ideas of the American Revolution added their influence to those 
of some early Christian thinkers and preachers, particularly among the 
Quakers, in deprecating these arguments. And they gave an entirely new 
vision of society as it is and as it ought to be. This vision was dominated 
by a radically equalitarian political morality and could not possibly include 
slavery as a social institution. The philosophical ideas of man's natural 
rights merged with the Golden Rule of Christianity, "Do unto others as 
you would have them do unto you." 

How it actually looked in the minds of the enlightened slaveholders 
who played a prominent role in the Revolution is well known, since they 
were under the urge to intellectual clarity of their age, and in pamphlets, 
speeches, and letters frequently discussed the troubles of their conscience, 
Most of them saw clearly the inconsistency between American democracy 
and Negro slavery. To these men slavery was an "abominable crime," a 
"wicked cause," a "supreme misfortune," an "inherited evil," a "cancer 
in the body politic." Jefferson himself made several attacks on the institu- 
tion of slavery, and some of them were politically nearly successful. Later 
in his life (1821) he wrote in his autobiography: 

... it was found that the public mind would not bear the proposition [of gradual 
emancipation], nor will it bear it even at this day. Yet the day is not far distant 
when it must bear it, or worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in the 
book of fate than that these people are to be free. 8 

It was among Washington's first wishes ". .. to see a plan adopted for the 
abolition of it [slavery] j but there is only one proper and effectual mode 
by which it can be accomplished and that is by legislative authority. . . ."* 
In this period the main American religious denominations also went 011 
record to denounce slavery. 

Even in terms of economic usefulness slavery seemed for a time to be 
a decaying institution. Slave prices were falling. Public opinion also was 



26 An American Dilemma 

definitely in motion. In the North where it was most unprofitable, slavery 
was abolished in state after state during this revolutionary era. Also South- 
ern states took certain legislative steps against slave trade and relaxed 
their slave codes and their laws on manumission. It is probable that the 
majority of Americans considered Negro slavery to be doomed. But in 
the South the slaves represented an enormous investment to the slave 
owners, and the agricultural economy was largely founded on slave labor. 
When the Constitution was written, slavery had to be taken as an economic 
and political fact. It is, however, indicative of the moral situation in 
America at that time that the words "slave" and "slavery" were avoided. 
"Somehow," reflects Kelly Miller, "the fathers and fashioners of this basic 
document of liberty hoped that the reprobated institution would in time 
pass away when there should be no verbal survival as a memorial of its 
previous existence." 5 

In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the Abolitionist move- 
ment was as strong in the South as in the North, if not stronger. A most 
fateful economic factor had, however, entered into the historical develop- 
ment, and it profoundly changed the complexion of the issue. Several 
inventions in the process of cotton manufacture, and principally Eli Whit- 
ney's invention of the cotton gin in 1794, transformed Southern agricul- 
ture. Increased cotton production and its profitability gave impetus to a 
southward and westward migration from the old liberal Upper South, and 
raised the prices of slaves which had previously been declining. 6 

In explaining the ensuing ideological reaction in the South we must not 
forget, however, that the revolutionary movement, typified by the Declara- 
tion of Independence, represented a considerable over-exertion of American 
liberalism generally, and that by the time of the writing of the Constitution 
a reaction was on its way. In Europe after the Napoleonic Wars a reaction 
set in, visible in all countries and in all fields of culture. The North 
released itself rather completely from the influences of the European 
reaction. The South, on the contrary, imbibed it and continued on an 
accentuated political and cultural reaction even when the European move- 
ment had turned again toward liberalism. Around the 1830's, the pro- 
slavery sentiment in the South began to stiffen. During the three decades 
leading up to the Civil War, an elaborate ideology developed in defense 
of slavery. This Southern ideology was contrary to the democratic creed 
of the Old Virginia statesmen of the American Revolution. 

The pro-slavery theory of the ante-bellum South is basic to certain ideas, 
attitudes, and policies prevalent in all fields of human relations even at the 
present time." The central theme in the Southern theory is the moral and * 
political dictum that slavery did not violate the "higher law," that it was 

" See Chapters 10, 20, 24. and 28. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 87 

condoned by the Bible and by the "laws of nature," and that "free society," 
in contrast, was a violation of those laws. 

More and more boldly as the conflict drew nearer, churchmen, writers, 
and statesmen of the South came out against the principle of equality as 
formulated in the Declaration of Independence. This principle came to 
be ridiculed as a set of empty generalities and meaningless abstractions. 
Common experience and everyday observation showed that it was wrong. 
Indeed, it was "exuberantly false, and arborescently fallacious": 

Is it not palpably nearer the truth to say that no man was ever born free and no 
two men were ever born equal, than to say that all men are born free and equal? 
. . . Man is born to subjection. . . . The proclivity of the natural man is to domineer 
or to be subservient. 7 

Here we should recall that Jefferson and his contemporaries, when they 
said that men were equal, had meant it primarily in the moral sense that 
they should have equal rights, the weaker not less than the stronger. 8 
This was fundamentally what the South denied. So far as the Negroes were 
concerned, the South departed radically from the American Creed. Lincoln 
later made the matter plain when he observed that one section of the coun- 
try thought slavery was right while the other held it to be wrong. 

The militant Northern Abolitionists strongly pressed the view that 
human slavery was an offense against the fundamental moral law. Their 
spiritual ground was puritan Christianity and the revolutionary philosophy 
of human rights. They campaigned widely, but most Northerners — sensing 
the dynamite in the issue and not liking too well the few Negroes they had 
with them in the North — kept aloof. In the South the break from the 
unmodified American Creed continued and widened. Free discussion was 
effectively cut off at least after 1840. Around this central moral conflict 
a whole complex of economic and political conflicts between the North and 
the South grew up." The most bloody contest in history before the First 
World War became inevitable. De Tocqueville's forecast that the abolition 
of slavery would not mean the end of the Negro problem came true. It 
is with the American nation today, and it is not likely to be settled 
tomorrow. 

It should be observed that in the pro-slavery thinking of the ante-bellum 
South, the Southerners stuck to the American Creed as far as whites were 
concerned; in fact, they argued that slavery was necessary in order to 
establish equality and liberty for the whites. In the precarious ideological 
situation— where the South wanted to defend a political and civic institu- 
tion of inequality which showed increasingly great prospects for new land 
exploitation and commercial profit, but where they also wanted to retain 
the democratic creed of the nation — the race doctrine of biological inequality 

* The role of the Negro and slavery as causative factors for the War will be commented 
upon in Chapter ao. 



88 An American Dilemma 

between, whites and Negroes offered the most convenient solution. 9 The 
logic forcing the static and conservative ideology of the South to base itself 
partly on a belief in natural inequality is parallel but opposite to the ten- 
dency of the original philosophy of Enlightenment in Europe and the 
American Revolution to evolve a doctrine of natural equality in order to 
make room for progress and liberalism. 10 

3. The Ideological Compromise 

After the War and Emancipation, the race dogma was retained in the 
South as necessary to justify the caste system which succeeded slavery as the 
social organization of Negro-white relations. In fact, it is probable that 
racial prejudice increased in the South at least up to the end of Reconstruc- 
tion and probably until the beginning of the twentieth century. 11 

The North never had cleansed its own record in its dealing with the 
Negro even if it freed him and gave him permanent civil rights and the 
vote. In the North, however, race prejudice was never so deep and so 
widespread as in the South. During and after the Civil War it is probable 
that the North relaxed its prejudices even further. But Reconstruction was 
followed by the national compromise of the 1870's when the North allowed 
the South to have its own way with the Negroes in obvious contradiction to 
what a decade earlier had been declared to be the ideals of the victorious 
North and the polity of the nation. The North now also needed the race 
dogma to justify its course. As the North itself did not retreat from most of 
the Reconstruction legislation, and as the whole matter did not concern the 
average Northerner so much, the pressure on him was not hard, and the 
belief in racial inequality never became intense. But this period was, in this 
field, one of reaction in the North, too. 

The fact that the same rationalizations are used to defend slavery and 
caste is one of the connecting links between the two social institutions. In 
the South the connection is psychologically direct. Even today the average 
white Southerner really uses the race dogma to defend not only the present 
caste situation but also ante-bellum slavery and, consequently, the righteous- 
ness of the Southern cause in the Civil War. This psychological unity of 
defense is one strong reason, among others, why the generally advanced 
assertion is correct that the slavery tradition is a tremendous impediment 
in the way of improvement of the Negro's lot. The caste system has 
inherited the defense ideology of slavery. 

The partial exclusion of the Negro from American democracy, however, 
has in no way dethroned the American Creed. This faith actually became 
strengthened by the victorious War which saved the Union and stopped 
the Southerners from publicly denouncing the cherished national principles 
that all men are born equal and have inalienable civil rights. The question 
can be asked: What do the millions of white people in the South and in 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 89 

the North actually think when, year after year, on the nr*ional holidays 
dedicated to the service of the democratic ideals, they read, recite, and 
listen to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Do they or 
do they not include Negroes among "all men"? The same question is 
raised when we observe how, in newspaper editorials and public speeches, 
unqualified general statements are made asserting the principles and the 
fact of American democracy. Our tentative answer is this: In solemn 
moments, Americans try to forget about the Negroes as about other 
worries. If this is not possible they think in vague and irrational terms; 
in these terms the idea of the Negroes' biological inferiority is a nearly 
necessary rationalization. 

The dogma of racial inequality may, in a sense, be regarded as a strange 
fruit of the Enlightenment. The fateful word race itself is actually not yet 
two hundred years old. The biological ideology had to be utilized as an 
intellectual explanation of, and a moral apology for, slavery in a society 
which went out emphatically to invoke as its highest principles the ideals 
of the inalienable rights of all men to freedom and equality of opportunity. 
It was born out of the conflict between an old harshly nonequalitarian insti- 
tution — which was not, or perhaps in a short time could not be, erased — and 
the new shining faith in human liberty and democracy. Another accom- 
plishment of early rationalistic Enlightenment had laid the theoretical basis 
for the racial defense of slavery j the recognition of Homo sapiens as only 
a species of the animal world and the emerging study of the human body 
and mind as biological phenomena. Until this philosophical basis was laid, 
racialism was not an intellectual possibility. 

The influences from the American Creed thus had, and still have, a 
double-direction. On the other hand, the equalitarian Creed operates directly 
to supress the dogma of the Negro's racial inferiority and to make people's 
thoughts more and more "independent of race, creed or color," as the 
American slogan runs. On the other hand, it indirectly calls forth the 
same dogma to justify a blatant exception to the Creed. The race dogma 
is nearly the only way out for a people so moralistically equalitarian, if it 
is not prepared to live up to its faith. A nation less fervently committed to 
democracy could, probably, live happily in a caste system with a some- 
what less intensive belief in the biological inferiority of the subordinate 
group. The need jor race prejudice is, from this point of view, a need for 
defense on the fart of the Americans against their own national Creed, 
against their own most cherished ideals. And race prejudice is, in this sense, 
a function of equalitarianism. The former is a perversion of the latter. 12 

4. Reflections in Science 

This split in the American soul has been, and still is, reflected in scien- 
tific thought and in the literature on the Negro race and its characteristics. 



90 An American Dilemma 

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the 
supreme exponent of early American liberalism, in -his famous Notes on 
Virginia (1781-1782) deals with the Negro problem in a chapter on "The 
Administration of Justice and the Description of the Laws." He posits his 
ideas about race as an argument for emancipating the slaves, educating 
them, and assisting them to settle in Africa: 

Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by 
the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions 
which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, 
and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination 
of the one or the other race. 18 

He goes on to enumerate the "real distinctions" between Negroes and 
whites and gives a fairly complete list of them as they were seen by 
liberal people of his time: color, hair form, secretion, less physiological 
need of sleep but sleepiness in work, lack of reasoning power, lack of depth 
in emotion, poverty of imagination and so on. In all these respects he is 
inclined to believe that "it is not their condition, then, but nature, which 
has produced the distinction." But he is cautious in tone, has his attention 
upon the fact that popular opinions are prejudiced, and points to the pos- 
sibility that further scientific studies may, or may not, verify his con- 
jectures." 

This guarded treatment of the subject marks a high point in the early 
history of the literature on Negro racial characteristics. In critical sense and 
in the reservation for the results of further research, it was not surpassed 
by white writers until recent decades. As the Civil War drew nearer, intel- 
lectuals were increasingly mobilized to serve the Southern cause and to 
satisfy the Southern needs for rationalization. After Reconstruction their 
theories were taken over by the whole nation. Biology and ethnology were 
increasingly supplanting theology and history in providing justification 
for slavery and, later, caste. Even the friends of the Negroes assumed great 
racial differences, even if, out of charity, they avoided elaborating on them. 
The numerous enemies of the Negro left a whole crop of pseudo-scientific 
writings in the libraries, emphasizing racial differences. Robert W. 
Shufeldt's book, America's Greatest Problem: the Negro 1 * which had 
considerable influence for a time — illustrating the inferiority argument by 
a picture of a Negro lad between two monkeys and filled with an imposing 
mass of presumed evidences for Negro inferiority — is a late example of this 
literature at its worst. 18 

Without much change this situation continued into the twentieth century. 
At this time the heavily prejudiced position of science on the race problem 
was, however, beginning to be undermined. Professor Franz Boas and a 
l#hole school of anthropologists had already come out against these argu- 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 91 

ments for racial differences based on the primitive people's lack of culture." 
The outlines of a radically environmentalistic sociology were being drawn 
by W. G. Sumner, W. I. Thomas and C. H. Cooley. The early research on 
intelligence pronounced that there were considerable racial differences but 
h had already encountered some doubts as to validity." Improved techniques 
in the fields of anatomy and anthropometry had begun to disprove earlier 
statements on Negro physical traits. b 

The last two or three decades have seen a veritable revolution in scienti- 
fic thought on the racial characteristics of the Negro. This revolution has 
actually a much wider scope: it embraces not only the whole race issue even 
outside the Negro problem, but the fundamental assumptions on the nature- 
nurture question. The social sciences in America, and particularly sociology, 
anthropology, and psychology, 18 have gone through a conspicuous develop- 
ment, increasingly giving the preponderance to environment instead of to 
heredity. 

In order to retain a proper perspective on this scientific revolution, we 
have to recall that American social science is not many decades old. The 
biological sciences and medicine, firmly entrenched much earlier in American 
universities, had not, and have not yet, the same close ideological ties to 
the American Creed. They have been associated in America, as in the rest 
of the world, with conservative and even reactionary ideologies. 1 " Under 
their long hegemony, there has been a tendency to assume biological causa- 
tion without question, and to accept social explanations only under the 
duress of a siege of irresistible evidence. In political questions, this tendency 
favored a do-nothing policy. This tendency also, in the main, for a century 
and more, determined people's attitudes toward the racial traits of the 
Negro. In the years around the First World War, it exploded in a c;iscade 
of scientific and popular writings BU with a strong racialistic bias, rationalizing 

"Cooley challenged Galton's hereditary explanation of racial genius in 1897. (Charles 
H. Cooley, "Genius, Fame and the Comparison of Races," Annals of the American Academy 
of Political and Social Science [May, 1897], pp. 317-358) j see Chapter 6, Section 3. 

''Several scientists, for example, had criticized much of the early research on brain and 
skull differences. One of the most notorious of the exposes was that of Robert B. Bean by 
Franklin P. Mall. Bean was a Southern student of Mall's in the lattcr's laboratory at Johns 
Hopkins. In an elaborate study of Negro skulls and brains, he attempted to show that the 
skulls were smaller than the skulls of white men, and that the brains were less miwiluted 
and otherwise deficient. After Bean published his findings (Robert B. Bean, "b.i'iie Racial 
Peculiarities of the Negro Brain," American Journal of Anatomy [September, 1906], 
pp. 27-432), Mall repeated the measurements on many of the same specimens and found 
that Bean had completely distorted his measurements and conclusions. (Franklin P. Mall, 
"On Several Anatomical Characters of the Human Brain, Said to Vary According to Race 
and Sex, With Especial Reference to the Weight of the Frontal Lobe," American Journal 
of Anatomy [February, 1909], pp. t-32). Bean's sample, too, was grossly inadequate) h 
consisted of 103 Negroes and 49 whites in the Baltimore morgue who had been unclaimed 
at death. 



92 An American Dilemma 

the growing feeling in America against the "new" immigrants pouring into 
a country whose last frontier was now occupied and congregating in the 
big cities where they competed with American labor. In addition to the 
social friction they created, the idea that these newcomers represented an 
inferior stock provided much of the popular theory for the restrictive 
immigration legislation. 21 

The wave of racialism for a time swayed not only public opinion but also 
some psychologists who were measuring psychic traits, especially intelli- 
gence, and perhaps also some few representatives of related social sciences. 22 
But the social sciences had now developed strength and were well on the 
way toward freeing themselves entirely from the old biologistic tendency. 
The social sciences received an impetus to their modern development by 
reacting against this biologistic onslaught. They fought for the theory of 
environmental causation. Their primary object of suspicion became more 
and more the old static entity, "human nature," and the belief that funda- 
mental differences between economic, social, or racial groups were due to 
"nature." 

From the vantage point of their present research front, the situation 
looks somewhat like this: a handful of social and biological scientists over 
the last fifty years have gradually forced informed people to give up some 
of the more blatant of our biological errors. But there must be still other 
countless errors of the same sort that no living man can yet detect, because 
of the fog within which our type of Western culture envelops us. Cultural 
influences have set up the assumptions about, the mind, the body, and the 
universe with which wc begin; pose the questions we askj influence the 
facts we seek j determine the interpretation we give these facts j and direct 
our reaction to these interpretations and conclusions. 

Social research has thus become militantly critical. It goes from discovery 
to discovery by challenging this basic assumption in various areas of life. 
It is constantly disproving inherent differences and explaining apparent 
ones in cultural and social terms. By inventing and applying ingenious 
specialized research methods, the popular race dogma is being victoriously 
pursued into every corner and effectively exposed as fallacious or at least 
unsubstantiated. So this research becomes truly revolutionary in the spirit 
of the cherished American tradition. A contrast is apparent not only in 
comparison with earlier stands of American social science but also with 
contemporary scientific trends in other countries. The democratic ones 
have, on the whole, followed a similar course, but America has been lead- 
ing. It is interesting to observe how on this point the radical tendency in 
American social research of today dominates even the work and writings 
of scientists who -feel and pronounce their own political inclination to be 
conservative. 

What has happened is in line with the great traditions of the American 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 93 

Creed, the principles of which are themselves, actually, piecemeal becoming 
substantiated by research and elaborated into scientific theory. American 
social scientists might — in a natural effort to defend their objectivity — 
dislike this characterization, but to the outsider it is a simple and obvious 
fact that the social sciences in America at present have definitely a spirit 
in many respects reminiscent of eighteenth century Enlightenment. The 
ordinary man's ideas have not, however, kept up to those of the scientist. 
Hardly anywhere else or in any other issue is there — in spite of intensive 
and laudable efforts to popularize the new results of research — such a wide 
gap between scientific thought and popular belief. At least potentially these 
ideas have, however, a much greater importance in America than could be 
assumed upon casual observation and for the reason that the ordinary 
American has a most honored place in his heart for equalitarianism. 

This trend in social sciences to discount earlier notions of great differences 
in "nature" between the advantaged and the disadvantaged groups (rich- 
poor, men-women, whites-Negroes) runs parallel to another equally con- 
spicuous trend in American political ideology since the First World War: 
an increased interest and belief in social reforms. The latter trend broke 
through in the course of the Great Depression following the crisis of 1929; 
and it materialized in the New Deal, whose principles, even if not methods, 
are now widely accepted. We have already stressed the strategic importance 
for political liberalism and radicalism of the modern social science point 
of view on the basic problem of nurture versus nature. The scientific trend 
in non-democratic countries during the same period — and specifically the 
sway of racialism over German universities and research centers under the 
Nazi regime — provides a contrast which vividly illustrates our thesis. 

As always, we can, of course, assume that basically both the scientific, 
trend and the political development in a civilization are functions of a 
larger synchronized development of social ideology. A suspicion is, then, 
natural that fundamentally the scientific trend in America is a rational- 
ization of changed political valuations. This trend has, however, had its 
course during a remarkable improvement of observation and measurement 
techniques and has been determined by real efforts to criticize research 
methods and the manner in which scientific inferences are made from 
research data. It has, to a large extent, been running against expectation 
and, we may assume, wishes. This is the general reason why, in spite of 
the natural suspicion, we can feel confident that the scientific trend is, on 
the whole, a definite approach toward objective truth. 

5. The Position of the Negro Writers 

As creators of original scientific theories and as independent research 
workers in the field of social science, as in other fields, the Negroes came 
late and are even now rather exceptional. This is a consequence of the 



94 An American Dilemma 

American caste system. But for a much longer time they have had gifted 
essayists well in touch with the trends in social sciences. From the begin- 
ning, Negro writers took the stand that the American dogma of racial 
inequality was a scientific fake. 23 The late Kelly Miller, particularly, knew 
how to present the Negro's case effectively. He had well digested the 
anthropological criticism against the argument that the Negroes had never 
produced a culture of their own in Africa and knew how to turn it around: 

Because any particular race or class has not yet been caught up by the current of 
the world movement is no adequate reason to conclude that it must forever fall 
without the reach of its onward flow. If history teaches any clear lesson, it is that 
civilization is communicable to the tougher and hardier breeds of men, whose 
physical stamina can endure the awful stress of transmission. To damn a people to 
everlasting inferiority because of deficiency in historical distinction shows the same 
faultiness of logic as the assumption that what never has been never can be. The 
application of this test a thousand years ago would have placed under the ban of 
reproach all of the rigorous and virile nations of modern times. 21 

and: 

. . . history plays havoc with the vainglorious boasting of national and racial conceit. 
Where are the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians, who once lorded it 
over the earth? In the historical recessional of races they are "one with Nineveh and 
Tyre," Expeditions must be sent from some distanct continent to unearth the glori- 
ous monuments of their ancestors from beneath the very feet of their degenerate 
descendants. The lordly Greeks who ruled the world through the achievements of 
the mind, who gave the world Homer and Socrates and Phidias in the heyday of 
their glory, have so sunken in the scale of excellence that, to use the language of 
Macaulay, "their people hare degenerated into timid slaves and their language into 
a barbarous jargon." On the other hand, the barbarians who, Aristotle tells us, could 
not count beyond ten fingers in his day subsequently produced Kant and Shakespeare 
and Newton. 26 

Miller reminds his white countrymen: 

Our own country has not escaped the odium of intellectual inferiority. The 
generation has scarcely passed away in whose ears used to ring the standing sneer, 
"Who reads an American book?" It was itv the day of Thomas Jefferson that a 
learned European declared: "America has not produced one good poet, one able 
mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or science." In response to this 
charge Jefferson enters an eloquent special plea. He says: "When we shall have 
existed as a people ai long as the Greeks did before they produced a Homer, the 
Romans, a Virgil, the French, a Racine, the English, a Shakespeare and Milton, 
should this reproach be still true, we will inquire from what unfriendly cause it has 
proceeded.". How analogous to this is the reproach wh'ch you [Thomas Dixon, Jr.] 
and Mr»"W*iponi treading the track of Thomas Nelson Page, and those of his school 
o£ thought; now* hurl against the Negro race? The response of Jefferson defending 
the American colonies from the reproach of innate inferiority will apply with 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 95 

augmented emphasis to ward off similar charges against the despised and rejected 
Negro. 28 

To the Southerners particularly he gave the following rejoinder: 

The white people of the South claim, or rather boast of, a race prepotency and 
inheritance as great as that of any breed of men in the world. Bat they clearly fail 
to show like attainment. 27 

and added maliciously: 

Has it ever occurred to you that the people of New England blood, who have 
done and are doing most to make the white race great and glorious in this land, are 
the most reticent about extravagant claims to everlasting superiority? You protest too 
much. Your loud pretensions, backed up by such exclamatory outburst of passion, 
make upon the reflecting mind the impression that you entertain a sneaking suspicion 
of their validity. 28 

This is heated polemics but not without its point. On the central issue his 
best formulated argument is probably contained in the following sentences: 

The Negro has never, during the whole course of history, been surrounded by 
those influences which tend to strengthen and develop the mind. To expect the 
Negroes of Georgia to produce a great general like Napoleon when they are not 
even allowed to carry arms, or to deride them for not producing scholars like those 
of the Renaissance when a few years ago they were forbidden the use of letters, 
verges closely upon the outer rim of absurdity. Do you look for great Negro states- 
men in States where black men arc not allowcj to vote? 20 

Concerning the physical disabilities of the Negro, he was full of scorn: 

Do you recall the school of pro-slavery scientists who demonstrated beyond doubt 
that the Negro's skull was too thick to comprehend the substance of Aryan knowl- 
edge? Have you not read in the now discredited scientific books of that period with 
what triumphant acclaim it was shown that the shape and size of the Negro's skull, 
facial angle, and cephalic configuration rendered him forever impervious to the 
white man's civilization? But all enlightened minds are now as ashamed of that 
doctrine as they are of the one-time dogma that the Negro had no soul. 80 

If at the time when he was writing, he could have seen the modern devel- 
opment of intelligence research, on which we shall comment in a later 
chapter, he would have had still more arrows for his bow. 

Miller has been quoted at some length here because his attitude is typical 
of the thinking of the intellectual Negroes on this issue for several dec- 
ades, 31 in fact, from the first time the Negro people had a group of 
individuals trained to independent scholarly thinking. These early Negro 
intellectuals were in all certainty just as much driven by their rationalization 
interests as their white colleagues. Only their interest went in the opposite 
direction. In the development of intelligence research it is apparent that 
Negroes and members of other minority groups always had a tendency to 



q6 An American Dilemma 

find environmental explanations for differences in intelligence perfor- 
mance, while the "American" scientists and, particularly, Southerners and 
other Americans who for one reason or other felt tender toward the 
Southern cause, for a long time labored under the bias of expecting to find 
innate differences. 

From one point of view it is, of course, merely an historical accident that 
modern research has tended to confirm the Negroes' view and not the 
whites'. The Negro writers constantly have proceeded upon the assumption, 
later formulated by Du Bois in Black Reconstruction: w . . . that the Negro 
in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who 
under given environment develops like other human beings. . . ." 32 This 
assumption is now, but was not a couple of decades ago, also the assumption 
of white writers. 88 Negro writings from around the turn of the century, 
therefore, sound so much more modern than white writings. It is mainly 
this historical accident which explains why, for example, Du Bois' study of 
the Philadelphia Negro community, 84 published in the 'nineties, stands 
out even today as a most valuable contribution, while white authors like 
H. W. Odum and C. C. Brigham have been compelled — and have had 
the scientific integrity and personal courage — to retreat from writings of 
earlier decades even though they were published after Du Bois' study. 33 
The white authors have changed while the Negro authors can stand by 
their guns. It is also apparent, when going through the literature on the 
Negro, that the whole tone, the "degree of friendliness" in viewpoints and 
conclusions, has been modified immensely in favor of the Negro since the 
beginning of the 'twenties. 30 This trend is, of course, intimately related to 
the general trend in social sciences, referred to above, and to the still 
broader political and social development in the American nation. 

The Negro intellectuals' resistance to the white race dogma has been 
widely popularized among the Negro people through the Negro press, 
the Negro school and the Negro pulpit. As it corresponds closely to Negro 
interests, it will now be found to emerge as a popular belief in all Negro 
communities in America, except the backward ones. It may be assumed that 
formerly the Negroes more often took over white beliefs as a matter of 
accommodation. 

The spread of the same conclusions from modern research has been 
much slower among whites, which is also natural, as they do not coincide 
with their interest in defending the caste order, and in any case, do not 
have the same relevance to their own personal problems of adjustment. 
One most important result is, however, that */ is now becoming difficult for 
even popular writers to express other views than the ones of racial equal- 
itarianism and still retain intellectual respect. This inhibition works also 
on the journalists, even in the South and even outside of the important 
circle of Southern white liberals. The final result of this change might, in 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 97 

time, be considerable. Research and education are bolstering the American 
Creed in its influence toward greater equalitarianism. 

6. The Racial Beliefs of the Unsophisticated 

Our characterization of the race dogma as a reaction against the equali- 
tarian Creed of revolutionary America is a schematization too simple to 
be exact unless reservations are added. Undoubtedly the low regard for 
the Negro people before the eighteenth century contained intellectual 
elements which later could have been recognized as a racial theory in 
disguise. The division of mankind into whites, blacks, and yellows stretches 
back to ancient civilization. A loose idea that barbarism is something 
inherent in certain peoples is equally old. On the other hand, the masses 
of white Americans even today do not always, when they refer to the 
inferiority of the Negro race, think clearly in straight biological terms. 

The race dogma developed gradually. The older Biblical and socio- 
political arguments in defense of slavery retained in the South much of 
their force iong beyond the Civil War. Under the duress of the ideological 
need of justification for Negro slavery, they were even for a time becoming 
increasingly elaborated. Their decline during recent decades is probably a 
result of the secularization and urbanization of the American people, which 
in these respects, as in so many others, represents a continuation of the 
main trend begun by the revolutionary ideological impulses of the eight- 
eenth century. In this development, the biological inferiority dogma 
threatens to become the lone surviving ideological support of color caste 
in America. 

In trying to understand how ordinary white people came to believe in 
the Negro's biological inferiority, we must observe that there was a shift 
from theological to biological thinking after the eighteenth century. As 
soon as the idea was spread that man belongs to the biological universe, 
the conclusion that the Negro was biologically inferior was natural to the 
unsophisticated white man. It is obvious to the ordinary unsophisticated 
white man, from his everyday experience, that the Negro is inferior. And 
inferior the Negro really is; so he shows up even under scientific study. 
He is, on the average, poorer; his body is more often deformed; his 
health is more precarious and his mortality rate higher; his intelligence 
performance, manners, and morals are lower. The correct observation that 
the Negro is inferior was tied up to the correct belief that man belongs 
to the biological universe, and, by twisting logic, the incorrect deduction 
was made that the inferiority is biological in nature. 

Race is a comparatively simple idea which easily becomes applied to 
certain outward signs of "social visibility," such as physiognomy. Explana- 
tions in terms of environment, on the contrary, tax knowledge and imagi- 
nation heavily. It is difficult for the ordinary man to envisage clearly how 



98 An American Dilemma 

such factors as malnutrition, bad housing, and lack of schooling actually 
deform the body and the soul of people. The ordinary white man cannot 
be expected to be aware of such subtle influences as the denial of certain 
outlets for ambitions, social disparagement, cultural isolation, and the early 
conditioning of the Negro child's mind by the caste situation, as factors 
molding the Negro's personality and behavior. The white man is, there- 
fore, speaking in good faith when he says that he sincerely believes that 
the Negro is racially inferior, not merely because he has an interest in this 
belief, but simply because he has seen it. He "knows" it. 

Tradition strengthens this honest faith. The factors of environment 
were, to the ordinary white man, still less of a concrete reality one hundred 
years ago when the racial dogma began to crystallize. Originally the 
imported Negro slaves had hardly a trace of Western culture. The tremen- 
dous cultural difference between whites and Negroes was maintained ■ and, 
perhaps, relatively increased by the Negroes being kept, first, in slavery 
and, later, in a subordinate caste, while American white culture changed 
apace. By both institutions the Negroes' acculturation was hampered and 
steered in certain directions. The Negroes, moreover, showed obvious 
differences in physical appearance. 

From the beginning these two concomitant differences — the physical and 
the cultural — must have been associated in the minds of white people. 
"When color differences coincide with differences in cultural levels, then 
color becomes symbolic and each individual is automatically classified by 
the racial uniform he wears." 37 Darker color, woolly hair, and other con- 
spicuous physical Negro characteristics became steadily associated with 
servile status, backward culture, low intelligence performance and lack 
of morals. All unfavorable reactions to Negroes — which for social if not 
for biological reasons, are relatively much more numerous than favorable 
reactions — became thus easily attributed to every Negro as a Negro, that 
is, to the race and to the individual only secondarily as a member of the 
race. Whites categorize Negroes. As has been observed also in other racial 
contacts, visible characteristics have a power to overshadow all other 
characteristics and to create an illusion of a greater similarity between the 
individuals of the out-race and a greater difference from the in-race than 
is actually warranted. 88 

This last factor is the more important as the unsophisticated mind is 
much more "theoretical" — in the popular meaning of being bent upon 
simple, abstract, clear-cut generalizations — than the scientifically trained 
mind. 86 This works in favor of the race dogma. To conceive that apparent 
, differences in capacities and aptitudes could be cultural in origin means a 
deferment of judgment that is foreign to popular thinking. It requires 

* When we say that cultural differences were maintained, we do not refer one way or the 
other to the retention of African culture. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 99 

difficult and complicated thinking about a multitude of mutually dependent 
variables, thinking which does not easily break into the lazy formalism of 
unintellectual people. 

We should not be understood, however, to assume that the simpler 
concept of race is clear in the popular mind. From the beginning, as is 
apparent from the literature through the decades, environmental factors 
to some extent, hav>, been taken into account. But they are discounted, and 
they are applied in a loose way — partly under the influence of vulgarized 
pre-Darwinian and Darwinian evolutionism — to the race rather than to 
the individual. The Negro race is said to be several hundreds or thousands 
of years behind the white man in "development." Culture is then assumed 
to be an accumulated mass of memories in the race, transmitted through 
the genes. A definite biological ceiling is usually provided: the mind of 
the Negro race cannot be improved beyond a given level. This odd theory 
is repeated through more than a century of literature: it is phrased as an 
excuse by the Negro's friends and as an accusation by his enemies. The 
present writer has met it everywhere in contemporary white America. 

Closely related to this popular theory is the historical and cultural 
demonstration of Negro inferiority already referred to. It is constantly 
pointed out as a proof of his racial backwardness that in Africa the Negro 
was never able to achieve a culture of his own. Descriptions of hideous 
conditions in Africa have belonged to this popular theory from the begin- 
ning. Civilization is alleged to be the accomplishment of the white race; the 
Negro, particularly, is without a share in it. As typical not only of long 
literature but, what is here important, of the actual beliefs among ordinary 
white people in America, two quotations from a fairly recent exponent of 
the theory may be given: 

To begin with, the black peoples have no historic pasts. Never having evolved 
civilizations of their own, they are practically devoid of that accumulated mass of 
beliefs, thoughts, and experiences which render Asiatics so impenetrable and so 
hostile to white influences. . . . Left to himself, he [the Negro] remained a savage, 
and in the past his only quickening has been where brown men have imposed their 
ideas and altered his blood. The originating powers of the Kuropean and the Asiatic 
are not in him. 40 

The black race has never shown real constructive power. It has never built up a 
native civilization. Such progress as certain negro groups have made has been due to 
external pressure and has never long outlived that pressure's removal, for the negro, 
when left to himself, as in Haiti and Liberia, rapidly reverts to his ancestral, ways. 
The negro is a facile, even eager, imitator; but there he stops. He adopts, but he 
does not adapt, assimilate, and give forth creatively again. . . . 

Unless, then, every lesson of history is to be disregarded, we must conclude that 
black Africa is unable to stand alone. The black man's numbers may increase pro- 
digiously and acquire alien veneers, but the black man's nature will not change. 41 



100 An American Dilemma 

Without any doubt there is also in the white man's concept of the Negro 
"race" an irrational element which cannot be grasped in terms of either 
biological or cultural differences. It is like the concept "unclean" in primi- 
tive religion. It is invoked by the metaphor "blood" when describing 
ancestry. The ordinary man means something particular but beyond secular 
and rational understanding when he refers to "blood." The one who has 
got the smallest drop of "Negro blood" is as one who is smitten by a hide- 
ous disease. It does not help if he is good and honest, educated and intelli- 
gent, a good worker, an excellent citizen and an agreeable fellow. Inside 
him are hidden some unknown and dangerous potentialities, something 
which will sooner or later crop up. This totally irrational, actually magical, 
belief is implied in the system of specific taboos to be analyzed in Part VII. 
White intellectuals, particularly in the South, have often, in attempting 
to clarify to the writer their own attitude toward taboos, referred to this 
irrational element and described it in the terms utilized above. They some- 
times talked of it as an "instinct," but were well aware that they could 
not grasp it by this ton sober physio-psychological analogy. 

In this magical sphere of the white man's mind, the Negro is inferior, 
totally independent of rational proofs or disproofs. And he is inferior in a 
deep and mystical sense. The "reality" of his inferiority is tlie white man's 
own indubitable sensing of it, and that feeling applies to every single Negro. 
This is a manifestation of the most primitive form of religion. There is 
fear of the unknown in this feeling, which is "superstition" in the literal 
sense of this old word. Fear is only increased by the difficulties in expressing 
it in rational language and explaining it in such a way that it makes sense. 
So the Negro becomes a "contrast conception." He is "the opposite race" — 
an inner enemy, "antithesis of character and properties of the white man." 42 
His name is the antonym of white. As the color white is associated with 
everything good, with Christ -and the angels, with heaven, fairness, clean- 
liness, virtue, intelligence, courage, and progress, so black has, through 
the ages, carried associations with all that is bad and low: black stands for 
dirt, sin, and the devil. 48 It becomes understandable and "natural" on a 
deeper magical plane of reasoning that the Negro is believed to be stupid, 
immoral, diseased, lazy, incompetent, and dangerous — dangerous to the 
white man's virtue and social order. 

The Negro is segregated, and one deep idea behind segregation is that 
of quarantining what is evil, shameful, and feared in society.* When one 
speaks about "Americans" or "Southerners," the Negro is not counted in. 
When the "public" is invited, he is not expected. Like the devil and all 
his synonyms and satellites, he is enticing at the same time that he is 

/To illustrate this point and to exemplify how racial beliefs develop in an individual, 
we have included as footnote 44 to this chapter one of the clearest analyses of his own 
former prejudices by a Southerner to be found in the literature. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs ioi 

disgusting. Like them he is also humorous in a way, and it is possible to 
pity him. As the devil with his goat's foot is earth-bound in a sinister sense, 
so the Negro is also more part of "nature" than the white man. The old 
theologians of the South meant something specific when they equipped the 
Negro with a disproportionate amount of original sin just as Christian 
theologians generally characterize the devil as a fallen angel. Behind all 
these associations is the heritage of magic and primitive religion which 
we carry from prehistoric time and which is always with us in metaphorical 
meanings attached to the words we use. 

The stereotyped opinions of the Negro express themselves in institu- 
tionalized behavior, in jokes and stories, and in fiction. Fiction as a sound- 
ing board for, and as a magnifier of, popular prejudices is an object for 
research which deserves much more attention. The printed word has an 
easily detected magical import and authority for the unintellectual mind." 
It is generalized. People want to see their favorite opinions set forth and 
elaborated in print.* 6 One of the sources for studying the stereotyped 
opinions on the Negro is, therefore, fiction. 48 

7. Beliefs with a Purpose 

The low plane of living, the cultural isolation, and all the resulting 
bodily, intellectual, and moral disabilities and distortions of the average 
Negro make it natural for the ordinary white man not only to see that the 
Negro is inferior but also to believe honestly that the Negro's inferiority 
is inborn. This belief means, of course, that all attempts to improve the 
Negro by education, health reforms, or merely by giving him his rights 
as a worker and a citizen must seem to be less promising of success than 
they otherwise would be. The Negro is judged to be fundamentally incor- 
rigible and he is, therefore, kept in a slum existence which, in its turn, 
leaves the imprint upon his body and soul which makes it natural for the 
white man to believe in his inferiority." This is a vicious circle; it is, indeed, 
one of the chief examples of cumulative causation. From a practical point 
of view, it signifies that one of the ways, in the long run, to raise the white 
man's estimate of the Negro is to improve the Negro's status and, thereby, 
his qualities. It means also, however, that one of the chief hindrances to 
improving the Negro is the white man's firm belief in his inferiority. ". . . 
what the greater part of white America merely thinks about us is an influ- 

* Every lawyer knows from experience that by presenting a printed blank of a drafted 
contract, he can much more easily get anyone to Bign it than if it was written lot the 
occasion. 

* ". . . the haughty American Nation . . . makes the negro clean its boots and then proves 
the moral and physical inferiority of the negro by the fact that he is a shoeblack." (George 
Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman [1916} first edition, 1903], p. xviii.) 

* See Chapter 3, Section 7. 



J02 Am American Dilemma 

ential factor in making our actual condition what it is," complains James 
Weldon Johnson. 47 

The Negro's situation being what it is and the unsophisticated white 
man's mind working as it does, the white man can honestly think and say 
that his beliefs are founded upon close personal experience and hard facts. 
He is not deliberately deceiving himself; but the beliefs are opportunistic. 
The typical white individual does not fabricate his theory for a purpose. 
The ordinary white American is an upright and honest fellow who tries 
to think straight and wants to be just to everybody. He does not consciously 
concoct his prejudices for a purpose. 

But unscrupulous demagogues do it all the time with great profit. Many 
other white individuals will occasionally find it to their private interests 
to stretch their biased beliefs a little more in a direction unfavorable to the 
Negro. Much of this might happen just on the margin of what is con- 
sciously acknowledged. Practically no white people are sufficiently incited 
by self-interest to scrutinize their beliefs critically. And so through the 
generations, strengthened by tradition and community consensus, a public 
opinion among whites is formulated which is plainly opportunistic in the 
interest of the majority group. The individual in the group can remain 
confident in his moral and intellectual integrity. He "sees" the facts for 
himself. Tradition and consensus seem to him to be additional intellectual 
evidence and moral sanction for what he already believes. They relieve 
him of any duty he otherwise might have felt to criticize seriously his 
observations and inferences. The recognition that the racial beliefs thus 
have a social purpose opens up a perspective on the causal mechanism 
behind their formation and gives us a clue for the further study of their 
structure, to which we now proceed. 

If white Americans can believe that Negro Americans belong to a lower 
biological species than they themselves, this provides a motivation for their 
doctrine that the white race should be kept pure and that amalgamation 
should, by all means, be prevented. The theory of the inborn inferiority 
of the Negro people is, accordingly, used as an argument for the anti- 
amalgamation doctrine. This doctrine, in its turn, has, as we have seen, a 
central position in the American system of color caste.* The belief in 
biological inferiority is thus another basic support, in addition to the 
no-social-equality, anti-amalgamation doctrine, of the system of segregation 
and discrimination. Whereas the anti-amalgamation doctrine has its main 
importance in the "social" field, the belief in the Negro's biological inferi- 
ority is basic to discrimination in all fields. White Americans have an 
interest in'deprecating the Negro race in so far as they identify themselves 
with^tjhe prevailing system of color caste. They have such an interest, 
thciftgn in a lower degree, even if their only attachment to the caste order 

* Sec Chapter 3, Section 1. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 103 

is that they do not stand up energetically as individuals and citizens to 
eradicate it. 

We are not under any obligation, of course, to extend civil courtesies, 
equal justice, suffrage, and fair competition to animals, however much we 
love them. Kind treatment of animals is not a "right" of theirs but is 
rather construed as an obligation to our own humane feelings and to those 
of our equals. In so far as the Negro can be placed lower in the biological 
order than the white man and nearer to the animals, he is also, to an 
extent, kept outside the white man's social and moral order. The white 
man's entire system of discrimination is then in no need of moral defense. 
The Negro becomes deprived of the "natural rights of man," and will, 
instead, have his protection in the civil kindness toward inferior and 
dependent beings, which behooves a Christian society. He will be asked 
not to insist on "rights" but to pray for favors. 

... the thought of the older South — the sincere and passionate belief that some- 
where between men and cattle, God created a terlium quid, and called it a Negro— 
a clownish, simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations, but straitly 
foreordained to walk within the Veil. To be sure, behind the thought lurks the 
afterthought — some of them with favoring chance might become men, but in sheer 
self-defense we dare not let them, and we build about them walls so high, and hang 
between them and the light a veil so thick, that they shall not even think of breaking 
through. 48 

Another analogy may be found in the status of women and children." 
They, too, were — in a considerable measure — wards of the adult males, 
particularly in the period when the race dogma was being built up. They 
did not enjoy "equal rights" but had to rely for their protection upon 
kindly considerations from their superiors. Their status was also partly 
explained and justified by biological inferiority or lack of maturity. The 
Negro can be classified as nearer the animal but still a man, although not 
a mature man. Unlike children, he can be assumed never to grow to full 
maturity. Not only the individual Negro but the Negro race as a whole 
can be said to be "undeveloped" and "childish." 

The dominant interest in rationalizing and defending the caste system 
can be specified in the demand that the following statements shall be held 
true: 

(i) The Negro people belongs to a separate race of mankind. 

(2) The Negro race has an entirely different ancestry. 

(3) The Negro race is inferior in as many capacities as possible. 

(4) The Negro race has a place in the biological hierarchy somewhere 
between the white man and the anthropoids. 

(5) The Negro race is so different both in ancestry and in characteristics 

'See Appendix 5. 



104 An American Dilemma 

that all white peoples in America, in contradistinction to the Negroes, 
can be considered a homogeneous race. 
(6) The individuals in the Negro race are comparatively similar to one 
another and, in any case, all of them are definitely more akin to one 
another than to any white man. 

Our assumption is that the abstract scheme of opportunistic ideas, stated 
in the six points above, represents the ordinary white American's ad hoc 
theory on the Negro race. The assumption is based on the fact that the 
scheme closely corresponds to obvious needs for rationalization inherent 
in the American caste situation. Not only can the scheme be deduced from 
the rationalization needs, but it has been induced from our observations of 
opinions actually held among unsophisticated whites over the whole 
country. Such beliefs seem to have particular strength in the South and 
in other regions and groups where the Negro problem has a high salience. 
Their strength seems everywhere to stand in a close inverse relation to the 
individual white's level of education. Its relation to social class — if 
standardized for education — seems more doubtful. The white upper class 
person might feel a greater biological distance from the average Negro, but 
he has not the same need to emphasize the race dogma, since the social 
distance is so great and so secure. He will often be found both more willing 
to recognize individual Negroes as exceptions to the race dogma and more 
likely to classify poor whites as of an inferior stock, and, sometimes, "just 
as bad as" the average Negro. The lower classes of whites seem to be much 
more careful to keep the race dogma straight in both these respects. 

In adhering to this biological rationalization, specified in the six points 
stated above, the white man meets certain difficulties. A factual difficulty 
to begin with is that individual Negroes and even larger groups of Negroes 
often, in spite of the handicaps they encounter, show themselves to be 
better than they ought to be according to the popular theory. A whole 
defense system serves to minimize this disturbance of the racial dogma, 
which insists that all Negroes are inferior. From one point of view, segre- 
gation of the Negro people fulfills a function in this defense system. It is, 
of course, not consciously devised for this purpose, and it serves other 
purposes as well, but this docs not make its defense function less important. 
Segregation isolates in particular the middle and upper class Negroes," and 
thus permits the ordinary white man in America to avoid meeting an 
educated Negro. The systematic tendency to leave the Negro out when 
discussing public affairs and to avoid mentioning anything about Negroes 
in the press except their crimes also serves this purpose. b The aggressive 
and derogatory altitude toward "uppity" Negroes and, in particular, the 



'See Chapter 30, Section 2, and Chapter 31. 
k See Chapter a, and Chapter 30, Section 3. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 105 

tendency to relegate all educated Negroes to this group also belongs to the 
defense system." 

Since he has a psychological need to believe the popular theory of Negro 
racial inferiority, it is understandable why the ordinary white man is disin- 
clined to hear about good qualities or achievements of Negroes. 'The 
merits of Negro soldiers should not be too warmly praised, especially in 
the presence of Americans," reads one of the advices which the French 
Military Mission, stationed with the American Expeditionary Army during 
the First World War, circulated but later withdrew. 49 It should be added 
that white people who work to help the Negro people and to improve race 
relations see the strategic importance of this factor and direct their work 
toward spreading information about Negroes of quality among the whites. 

Another difficulty has always been the mulatto." White Americans want 
to keep biological distance from the out-race and will, therefore, be tempted 
to discount the proportion of mulattoes and believe that a greater part of 
the Negro people is pure bred than is warranted by the facts. A sort of 
collective guilt on the part of white people for the large-scale miscegenation, 
which has so apparently changed the racial character of the Negro people^ 
enforces this interest. 

The literature on the Negro problem strengthens this hypothesis. Only 
some exceptional authors, usually Negroes, gave more adequate estimates 
of the proportion of mixed breeds, 5 " and it was left to Hrdlicka and 
Herskovits in the late 'twenties to set this whole problem on a more 
scientific basis. The under-enumeration of mulattoes by the census takers 
decade after decade and also, until recently, the rather uncritical utilization 
of this material, indicate a tendency toward bias. The observations of the 
present author have, practically without exception, indicated that the non- 
expert white population shows a systematic tendency grossly to under- 
estimate the number of mulattoes in the Negro population. 

It may, of course, be said against this assumption of a hidden purpose 
that one should not assume the ability of uninformed and untrained persons 
to distinguish a mulatto from a pure bred Negro. But the facts of historical 
and actual miscegenation are fairly well known, at least in the South, and are 
discussed with interest everywhere. And if a wrong estimate systematical!" 
goes in the same direction, there is reason to ask for a cause. It has alsc 

'See Chapter 31. The term "uppity" is a Southern white man's term for all Negroes 
who try to rise, or have risen, out of the lower classes. Negroes use the term also, but are 
more Inclined to substitute "biggity" for it. 

b The term "mulatto" is, according to American custom, understood to include all 
Negroes of mixed ancestry, regardless of the degree of intermixture and the remoteness of 
its occurrence. The term includes in addition to "true" mulattoes also quadroons and 
octoroons and all other types of cross-breeds. In America they are all grouped with the 
Negro race. (See Chapter 5, Section 1.) 

" See Chapter 5, Section 6. 



io6 Am American Dilemma 

been observed that the ordinary white American gets disturbed when 
encountering the new scientific estimates that the great majority of Amer- 
ican Negroes are not of pure African descent. Similarly, the ordinary white 
American is disturbed when he hears that Negroes sometimes pass for 
white. He wants, and he must wr.nt, to keep biological distance. 

But the mulatto is a disturbance to the popular race theory not only 
because of his numbers. The question is also raised: Is the mulatto a 
deteriorated or an improved Negro? In fact, there seems never to have 
been popular agreement among white Americans whether the mulatto is 
worse than the pure bred Negro, or whether he is better because of his 
partially white ancestry. The former belief should per se strengthen the 
anti-amalgamation doctrine, in fact, make adherence to it to the interest 
of the entire society. The second belief can serve a purpose of explaining 
away Negro accomplishments which are, with few exceptions, made by 
mulattoes and which then could be ascribed to the white blood. 81 Actually, 
I have often heard the same man use both arguments. 

8. Specific Rationalization Needs 

When analyzing the actual beliefs, we must take account of much more 
specific needs for rationalization. Specific beliefs seem to have specific 
rationalization purposes besides the general one of justifying the caste order 
as a whole. Practically every type of white-Negro relation, every type of 
discrimination behavior, every type of interracial policy, raises its own 
peculiar demands for justification. And practically every special Negro 
characteristic, actual or only presumed, opens the possibility of meeting one 
or more of these special demands. 

The specific demands are embraced in the general one, in the same way 
as the caste order consists after all of the aggregate of a great number of 
specific discriminations and disabilities. Some of the beliefs are directly 
connected with a purpose of rationalizing a particular phase of the caste 
order. Others are only indirectly connected with such a specific purpose. 
The connection is sometimes obvious, as when a certain belief is regularly 
brought forward as a reason for a certain item of the caste order. Some- 
times the connection is less apparent to the observer; we shall even have 
to expect that at times it will be hidden from both the consciousness of the 
believer and the superficial observation of the investigator. The following 
exemplifications in most cases indicate only those direct connections between 
beliefs and specific purposes which are more apparent. All the beliefs to be 
mentioned have been scientifically disproved, as we shall find in the next 
two chapters. 

The beliefs that Negroes get sleepy when working with machines and 
that they, on the whole, lack mechanical aptitudes, serve a need for justi- 
fication of their being kept out of industry. The beliefs of their general 



* Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 107 

unreliability, their inborn lack of aptitude for sustained mental activity, 
and, particularly, their lower intelligence, help to justify this vocational 
segregation and to excuse the barriers against promotion of Negroes to 
skilled and supervisory positions. The beliefs that the Negro race is 
"childish," immature, undeveloped, servile, lacking in initiative, are used 
to justify the denial of full civic rights and suffrage to Negroes. 

The Negro's presumed lower intelligence and the belief that the mind 
of the Negro cannot be improved beyond a given level have always been 
main arguments for discrimination in education, and, specifically, for 
directing Negro education toward developing his hands and not his brains. 
The beliefs that Negroes have a much smaller cranial capacity and lower 
brain weight, a less complicated brain structure, thicker skull bones, an 
earlier closing of the cranial sutures, have a function to explain and fortify 
the beliefs in the lesser development of the Negro's higher brain centers 
and, consequently, his lower intelligence and reasoning power. 

The beliefs in the Negro's inborn laziness and thriftlessness, his happy- 
go-lucky nature, his lack of morals, his criminal tendencies, and so on, 
serve the purpose of easing the conscience of the good, upright white 
citizen when he thinks of the physical and moral slum conditions which 
are allowed in the Negro sections of all communities in America. They also 
rationalize the demand for housing segregation, and tend, on the whole, 
to picture the Negro as a menace to orderly society unless "kept in his 
place" by the caste system. The exaggerated beliefs in the Negro's higher 
susceptibility to various diseases have, in particular, the function to explain, 
in a way less compromising for the larger community, the high mortality 
rates and the bad health conditions among the Negro population. Until 
recently, these beliefs have discouraged all programs of health improve- 
ment among Negroes. 

The belief in a peculiar "hircine odor" of Negroes, like similar beliefs 
concerning other races, touches a personal sphere and is useful to justify 
the denial of social intercourse and the use of public conveniences which 
would imply close contact, such as restaurants, theaters and public convey- 
ances. It is remarkable that it does not hinder the utilization of Negroes in 
even the most intimate household work and personal services. 

There are many popular beliefs deprecating the mulatto: that they are 
more criminally disposed even than Negroes in general; that they tend 
to be sterile; that they— having parents of two distinct races— are not 
harmoniously proportioned, but have a trait of one parent side by side 
with a trait of the other parent, paired in such a way that the two cannot 
function together properly; that they are more susceptible to tuberculosis; 
that, because Negroes have relatively long, narrow heads, Negro women, 
with narrow pelvises, and their mulatto offspring are endangered when 
they bear children of white men whose heads are rounder, and so on. 



io8 An American Dilemma 

These beliefs are all of a nature to discourage miscegenation ana to Keep 
up biological distance even in regard to cross-breeds. The assertion, partic- 
ularly common among Southerners, that there are infallible signs to detect 
everyone with the slightest amount of Negro blood, which is so easy for 
the observer to disprove by experiment, is a reassuring belief with a similar 
function. 

The belief that practically all Negro women lack virtue and sexual 
morals bolsters up a collective bad conscience for the many generations of 
miscegenation. At the same time, it is, occasionally, a wishful expression of 
sexual appetite on the part of white men. The belief in the strong sexual 
urge and the superior sexual skill and capacity of Negro women (the 
"tigress" myth) has more obviously this latter function. The belief that 
Negro males have extraordinarily large genitalia is to be taken as an 
expression of a similar sexual envy and, at the same time, as part of the 
social control devices to aid in preventing intercourse between Negro males 
and white females. 

There are also popular beliefs which are friendly and actually ascribe 
some sort of superiority to the Negro: for example, that he is more gifted 
in music, the arts, dancing, and acting than white people; that he is better 
in handling animals or, sometimes, children ; that he is loyal and reliable 
as a servant (often the opposite is, however, asserted) ; that he is, on the 
whole, a more happy and mentally balanced human being; that he has 
more emotional warmth; that he can take sorrows and disappointments 
more easily; that he is more religious in his nature. All such favorable 
beliefs seem to have this in common, that they do not raise any question 
concerning the advisability or righteousness of keeping the Negro in his 
place in the caste order. They do not react against the major need for 
justification. They rather make it natural that he shall remain subordinate. 

The list of beliefs with specific purposes could be made much longer. 
The underlying hypothesis is this, that in analyzing the popular beliefs, 
we have to work as a detective reconstructing the solution of a crime from 
scattered evidence. For both the student of popular beliefs on the Negro 
and the detective, the guide to the explanation is given in the question: 
To whose good? Beliefs are opportune; they are in the service of interests. 
It is these general and specific rationalization needs which give the beliefs 
their pertinacity. They give to the stereotypes their emotional load, and 
their "value" to the people who hold to them. 62 

9. Rectifying Beliefs 

Th* rationalization needs do not work in an intellectual vacuum. They 
must have raw material to shape into the desired form. This material con- 
sists of white people's experiences of Negroes, how they behave and what 
they are, from his point of view. We have already observed that the 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs 109 

ordinary white man'? actual observations of average Negroes in their 
present inferior status make most of his beliefs natural and reasonab!" to 
him. The dependent Negro's attempts to accommodate to the wishes and 
expectations of the dominant white group facilitate this tendency. This all 
refers to the South. In the North, white people may have few personal 
experiences of Negroes, but they take over the myths, legends, and stereo- 
types that are existent in their culture. 

Assuming as our value -premise that we want to reduce the bias in white 
people's racial beliefs concerning Negroes,' our first practical conclusion 
is that we can effect this result to a degree by actually improving Negro 
Status, Negro behavior, Negro characteristics. The impediment in the way 
of this strategy is, of course, that white beliefs, directly and indirectly, are 
active forces in keeping the Negroes low. We have already referred to this 
vicious circle. 

A second line of strategy must be to rectify the ordinary white man's 
observations of Negro characteristics and inform him of the specific mistakes 
he is making in ascribing them wholesale to inborn racial traits. We may 
assume that, until the Negro people were studied scientifically — which in 
a strict sense of the term means not until recent decades — the raw material 
for beliefs which the average white man had at his disposal in the form of 
transmitted knowledge and personal observations placed only the most 
flexible limits to his opportunistic imagination. When, however, scientific 
Knowledge is being spread among people and becomes absorbed by them 
through popular literature, press, radio, school, and church, this means 
that the beliefs are gradually placed under firmer control of reality. Peofle 
want to be rational, to be honest and well informed. This want, if it is 
properly nourished, acts as a competing force among the opportunistic 
interests. To a degree the desire to be rational slowly overcomes the 
resistance of the desire to build false rationalizations. The resistance is, 
however, keen. Professor Young tells us: 

More than five hundred students of the author continued to rank the "American" 
as the superior "race" after completing a course on race relations! The "will to 
believe" ... is strong! 53 

The paramount practical importance of scientific research on the Negro 
is apparent for improvement of interracial relations. It is no accident that 
popular beliefs are biased heavily in a direction unfavorable to the Negro 
people— because they are steered by white people's needs for justification 
of the caste order. And it is, consequently, no accident either that scientific 
research, as it is progressing, is unmasking and rejecting these beliefs and 
giving rational reasons for beliefs more favorable to the Negroes. It is 

' The desire to be rational, to know the truth, and to think straight is—as need not be 
elaborated upon— central in the American Creed, and is accepted by everybody in principle. 



no An American Dilemma 

principally through encouraging research and through exposing the masses 
of people to its results that society can correct the false popular beliefs — 
by objectivizing the material out of which beliefs are fabricated. Seen in 
long-range perspective, a cautious optimism as to the results of gathering 
and spreading true information among the American people in racial mat- 
ters seems warranted. The impression of the author is that the younger, 
and better educated, generation has, on the whole, somewhat fewer 
superstitious beliefs, and that, during the last decade at least, the racial 
beliefs have begun to be slowly rectified in the whole nation. 

A third line of strategy is, naturally, to attack the valuations for the 
rationalization of which false beliefs are employed. This must mean 
strengthening the American Creed in its primary function of bending 
people's minds toward equalitarianism. Everything done to modify the 
caste order must diminish the moral conflict in the hearts of the Americans 
and thus decrease the defense needs which give emotional energy to the 
false racial beliefs. Indirectly, the valuations conflicting with the Creed also 
are becoming deflated as beliefs are becoming rectified. Valuations depend, 
to an extent, on the availability of functional beliefs in which they can be 
"lived out" and expressed.' 

In this way the moral and the intellectual tasks of education are closely 
related. The interrelation extends even to our first line of strategy. Every 
improvement of the actual level of Negro character will increase the 
effectiveness of both the intellectual and moral education of white people 
in racial matters and vice versa. It is this mechanism of mutual and cumula- 
tive dynamic causation which explains the actual situation in theory and, at 
the same time, affords the basis for constructive practical policy. 

io. The Study of Beliefs 

It should by this time be clear that it is the popular beliefs, and they 
only, which enter directly into the causal mechanism of interracial relations. 
The scientific facts of race and racial characteristics of the Negro people 
are only of secondary and indirect importance for the social problem under 
'Study in this volume. In themselves they are only virtual but not actual 
social facts. ". . . to understand race conflict we need fundamentally to 
understand conflict and not race. ,,&i We have concluded, further, from the 
actual power situation in America that the beliefs held by white -people 
rather than those held by Negroes are of primary importance? 

The popular beliefs concerning the Negro race pose two different tasks 
for scientific research. One task is to criticize and refute the beliefs when 
they "are wrong. American anthropology and psychology have, in recent 
decades, worked in this direction. It was, in fact, a necessary work to be 

'See Appendix t. 

*'See Introduction, Section 3. 



Chapter 4. Racial Beliefs hi 

performed in order to free science itself from the load of inherited racial 
bias. Another task which, in the end, might turn out to be of equal practical 
importance and which has a more central theoretical relevance is to study 
the racial beliefs themselves as social facts: to record them carefully; to 
analyze their causation and explain their role in people's emotions, 
thoughts, and actions; their "function" in the caste order of American 
society. 

Practically nothing has been done in a comprehensive and systematic 
compass to study the popular racial beliefs as social facts. 86 The racial 
beliefs have not even been recorded in a scientifically controlled manner. 
It is true that the beliefs can be perceived by an observer in America. They 
can also be recorded from the press and the popular literature. Selected 
fragments of evidence on various sectors of racial beliefs have, for a long 
time, been recorded in the scientific literature on the Negro problem. 69 
Until a few decades ago, however, even this literature had more the charac- 
ter of folklore itself than of a study of folklore. Impressionistic information 
of this type permits discussion of the problem in a hypothetical manner. 
It allows the outlining of a problem for study but not its solution. The 
foregoing pages are written in this vein. In order to lay the factual basis 
for a truly scientific analysis, which is more than suggestive and conjectural 
in character, beliefs must be observed and recorded in a systematic way 
under controlled research conditions.* 1 

In such studies the assumption should be that -people's beliefs are not 
necessarily consistent. The utmost care should be taken not to press upon 
the informants a greater systematic order than there actually exists in theii 
beliefs. For our assumption is, further, that the very inconsistencies are 
illuminating and of highest importance, particularly for the analytical 
approach to the deeper problem of the causation of the beliefs. Our hypo- 
thesis is that the beliefs are opportunistic and have the "function" to defend 
interests. The ordinary American's interests in the Negro problem should 
not be assumed to be simple and harmonious. They are, instead, complicated 
and conflicting. The conflicts are largely suppressed and only vaguely 
conscious. 

The analysis of the racial beliefs will, therefore, reach down to the 
deeper-seated conflicts of valuations. As people's thought, speech, and 
behavior regularly are in the nature of moral compromises, this deeper 
analysis cannot be accomplished simply by recording and systematizing 
the actual beliefs themselves, but must endeavor— by comparing various 
beliefs and particularly their inconsistencies — to understand them by infer- 
ences as to their "function" in the individual's opportunistic world view. 

In this deeper analysis — and only in this stage of the belief study— the 
scientific facts of race and racial traits become of importance. They have 
no direct importance per se- f indirectly they are of importance in that they 



112 An American Dilemma 

always, to an extent determined by exposure to education, form part of 
the raw material out of which actual beliefs are shaped. But in the analysis 
of beliefs they contribute the objective norms in relation to which the degree 
of incompleteness and the degree and direction of falsification of the actual 
beliefs can be scientifically ascertained and measured. As the distortion of 
truth in the beliefs is assumed to signify the opportunism of the latter, its 
measurement opens the door to a scientific study of the fundamental con- 
flicts in valuations. 11 

The main conclusion from this conjectural discussion of racial beliefs is, 
therefore, that a set of most fascinating research problems of great theoret- 
ical and practical importance is waiting for investigation. Such studies will 
demonstrate to what extent the hypotheses developed above will hold true 
when tested against properly recorded research data. 

* See Appendix i, Section 3. 



CHAPTER 5 

RACE AND ANCESTRY 



i. The American Definition of "Negro" 

The "Negro race" is defined in America by the white people. It is 
defined in terms of parentage. Everybody having a known trace of Negro 
blood in his veins — no matter how far back it was acquired — is classified 
as a Negro. No amount of white ancestry, except one hundred per cent, 
will permit entrance to the white race. As miscegenation has largely been 
an affair between white men and Negro women, it is a fair approximation 
to characterize the Negro race in America as the descendants of Negro 
women and Negro or white men through the generations — minus the 
persons having "passed" from the Negro into the white group and their 
offspring." 

This definition of the Negro race in the United States is at variance 
with that held in the rest of the American continent. "In Latin America 
whoever is not black is white: in teutonic America whoever is not white 
is black." 1 This definition differs also from that of the British colonies and 
dominions, primarily South Africa, where the hybrids (half-castes) are 
considered as a group distinct from both whites and Negroes. Even in the 
United States many persons with a mixture of Indian and white blood are 
regarded as whites (for example, ex-Vice President Curtis and Will 
Rogers). 

Legislation in this respect tends to conform to social usage, although 
often it is not so exclusive. 2 In some states one Negro grandparent defines 
a person as a Negro for legal purposes, in other states any Negro ancestor 
— no matter how far removed — is sufficient. In the Southern states defini- 
tions of who is a Negro are often conflicting. Since Reconstruction, there 
has been a tendency to broaden the definition. The Northeastern states 
generally have no definition of a Negro in law. These legal definitions and 
their changes and differences should not be taken too seriously, however. 
The more absolutistic "social", definition is, in most life situations, the 
decisive one. 8 

' This approximative summary neglects, of course, the Indian element in the ancestry of 
some Negroes, and the passing of part-Negro persons into the American Indian population. 
as well as the relatively few part-Negro offspring of white mothers. 

"3 



114 An American Dilemma 

This social definition of the Negro race, even if it does not change any- 
thing in the biological situation, increases the number of individuals actually 
included in the Negro race. It relegates a large number of individuals who 
look like white people, or almost so, to the Negro race and causes the 
Negro race to show a greater variability generally than it would show if 
the race were defined more narrowly in accordance with quantitative 
ethnological or biological criteria. "The farcical side of the color question in 
the States" — says Sir Harry H. Johnston — "is that at least a considerable 
proportion or the 'colored people' are almost white-skinned, and belong in 
the preponderance of their descent and in their mental associations to the 
white race." * In the American white population the so-called Nordic type, 
which is popularly assumed to be the opposite extreme from the black 
Negro, is a rare phenomenon. This statement is especially true after the 
"new" immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and from the 
Near East. But even the "Old American stock" was preponderantly "non- 
Nordic." a There are, however, also American Negroes with the clearest 
of white skin, the bluest of blue eyes, and the long and narrow head which 
happens to be both a Negro and a "Nordic" trait. 

The popular belief rationalizing the exclusive social definition of the 
Negro race is well expressed by the high priest of racialism in America, 
Madison Grant, in the following words: 

It must be borne in mind that the specializations which characterize the higher 
r«ces are of relatively recent development, are highly unstable and when mixed with 
generalized or primitive characters tend to disappear. Whether we like to admit it 
or not, the result of the mixture of two races, in the long run, gives us a race revert- 
ing to the more ancient, generalized and lower type. The cross between a white man 
and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro; 
the cross between a white man and, a Hindu is a Hindu ; and the cross between any 
of three European races and a Jew is a Jew. 5 

The fact that this belief is contrary to scientifically established truth does 
not diminish its force as a belief. An additional fortification in the sphere 
of beliefs is the "black baby myth," the popular theory that the slightest 
amount of Negro ancestry in an individual, who does not show even a trace 
of Negro characteristics, can cause a "throw-back" and that he — in a mating 
with a white individual — can become the parent of a black baby. b 
There has been much speculation about how this very exclusive racial 

* In making his famous study of the physical traits of "Old Americans" (practically all 
of English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, French, or German ancestry), Hrdlicka encountered great 
difficulty in finding persons of pure "Nordic" ancestry. (See Ales Hrdlicka, The Old 
Amtrieatu [1925], especially p. 5.) 

Even jn the population of Sweden, supposed to be the purest ",Nordic" stock in existence, 
only Home' 1 5 per cent can be classified as "Nordics" on strict anthropometric grounds. 

* Here two additional popular beliefs are added to our list in Chapter 4, Section 7, of 
beliefs with a special purpose. Concerning the black baby myth, see Section 7 of this chapter. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 115 

definition came to fasten itself on America. These speculations run all the 
way from an often asserted, particularly strong "racial instinct" in the 
"Anglo-Saxon race" to Embree's remark that "this custom grew up during 
slavery in order to increase the number of slaves, who constituted valuable 
property." e "When attempting to account for the historical origin of the 
social definition of the Negro, the fact should be taken into account that 
mixed offspring were almost always the result of illegitimate sex relations 
in which, according to common law, the ordinary paternal lineage becomes 
broken. This question of how the very inclusive definition of the Negro 
race arose in American cultural history is not solved. 

The definition of the "Negro race" is thus a social and conventional, not 
a biological concept. The social definition and not the biological facts 
actually determines the status of an individual and his place in interracial 
relations." This also relieves us of the otherwise cumbersome duty of 
explaining exhaustively what we, in a scientific sense, could understand by 
"race" as an ethnological and biological entity. 7 In modern biological or 
ethnological research "race" as a scientific concept has lost sharpness of 
meaning, and the term is disappearing in sober writings. In something even 
remotely approaching its strict sense, it applies only to exceptionally isolated 
population groups, usually with a backward culture, which thus seems to 
be the concomitant of "racial purity." 

Thus the scientific concept of race is totally inapplicable at the very spots 
where we recognize "race problems" It is being replaced by quantitative 
notions of the relative frequency of common ancestry and differentiating 
traits. "Racial purity" is thus relativized, and the hybridity of all peoples 
on earth is no longer minimized. Only the ignorant talk about the "Swed- 
ish" or "Scandinavian race," not to speak of the "Anglo-Saxon" or "German 
race." The "white American race" is gradually beginning to be merely a 
joke even among the populace, except in the South. The great variability 
of traits among individuals in every population group is becoming stressed, 
and the considerable amount of overlapping between all existing groups 
increasingly recognized. Besides the recognized differences among individ- 
uals in any one group, the differences among averages of groups tend to 
pale into insignificance. 

The fundamental unity and similarity of mankind — above minor 
individual and group differentials — is becoming scientifically established. 
While formerly attention was fixed on the few obvious distinguishing 
characteristics, and while the assumption was always that there existed 

*In recognition of this, we regularly substitute in this book the terms the "Negro 
people," the "Negro group" or the "Negro population" for the term, the "Negro race.*' 
When we sometimes, for the sake of convenience, talk about "race," "racial" characteristics, 
or "racial" relations, we should be understood to refer to the popular conception of the 
word, not the scientific one. 



n6 An American Dilemma 

other differences in regard to less observable facts, scientists now stress the 
unity of mankind and are skeptical of differences until they are demon- 
strated. The old custom of describing population groups in terms of "types" 
—the so-called "Nordic" type, for instance— which were not true types in 
the statistical sense but idealized, or caricatured, types, is being discredited. 
Even the use of average or modal figures for measuring traits is beginning 
to be considered scientifically unsatisfactory. It is recognized that the 
representation of the traits of a group should be made in the form of curves 
of frequency distribution or scatter diagrams. An absolutistic metaphysical 
system of opportunistic beliefs is, in this way, gradually being demolished, 
and humble, relativistic scientific knowledge raised on its ruins. Qualitative 
conceptions are translated into quantitative ones. This is a common trend of 
modern scientific development. 

The common belief that the races could be ordered as higher or lower in 
an evolutionary series, so that Negroids could be deemed more ape-like than 
Caucasoids, is entirely discredited. It is now commonly assumed by expert 
opinion that man — the species Homo sapens — evolved only once, and 
that such average differences as now exist between men are due to living 
under different geographic conditions after having separated from the com- 
mon place of origin. Independent of this hypothesis, which, of course, can 
hardly be checked, it is a fact that the Negro is no more akin to the apes 
than the white man is. Of the four most noticeable characteristics generally 
ascribed to the average or typical Negro — dark skin, broad nose, woolly 
hair, thick lips — only the first two make him slightly more similar to the 
apes. The white man's thin lips and straight hair are, on the other hand, 
much nearer to the traits of the apes. 

When all this is said, when anticipating some later conclusions, it is 
recognized that the great majority of American Negroes have Caucasoid 
ancestry as well as Negroid, and when it is also recognized that modern 
psychological research has discounted the previously held opinions that 
there are great innate mental differentials between racially defined popula- 
tion groups, it still does not follow that the race concept is unimportant in 
the Negro problem, and that continued and intensified ethnological, bio- 
logical, and psychological research on the American Negro people is 
unnecessary. In spite of all heterogeneity, the average white man's unmis- 
takable observation is that most Negroes in America have dark skin and 
woolly hair, and he is, of course, right. 

He is also right in ascribing, the occurrence of these characteristics to 
African ancestry. His delineation of the Negro race might be ever so 
arbitrary and scientifically inaccurate; his ideas about concomitant mental 
and moral traits might be fantastic and untenable; tut the fact is that "race" 
in his definition is the basis of the social caste system as it exists in America. 
fiecause of social visibility and of community knowledge of the parentage 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 117 

of individuals, "race" has tremendous cultural consequences. Under the 
exposure of science and education the white people in America might, in 
times to come, gradually rectify their opportunistic beliefs and even change 
their valuations to agree more with the national Creed of justice and 
equality of opportunity, so that these cultural consequences will be 
mitigated or obliterated. But for the time being, this is not so. 

From one viewpoint the entire Negro problem in America hinges upon 
this social definition of "race." Should America wake up one morning with 
all knowledge about the African ancestry of part of its population and all 
memories of color caste absolutely forgotten and find all the outward 
physical characteristics of the Negro people eradicated, but no change in 
their mental or moral characteristics, nothing we know about this group 
and other population groups in America would lead us to believe that 
the American Negro would not rapidly come to fit in as a well-adjusted 
ordinary American. His poverty and general backwardness would mean 
a low starting point and cause a larger portion of this population group to 
remain in the lower social strata. But, having been relieved of the specific 
caste deprivations and hindrances, his relative preponderance in the dis- 
advantaged classes would, from the beginning, decrease. 

His earlier relative isolation in America through slavery and subor- 
dinate caste position and, perhaps, also a few faint traditions and customs 
kept from Africa, would, for a time, endow him with remnants of some 
peculiar cultural and personality traits. But they would be negligible even 
in the beginning — if, as we assume, they are unrelated through social 
visibility to his caste status — compared with the much more glaring and 
"non-American" peculiarities of various groups of recent immigrants. 

But this is only a dream. The Negro has to be defined according to 
social usage, and his African ancestry and physical characteristics are fixed 
to his person much more ineffaceably than the yellow star is fixed to the 
Jew during the Nazi regime in Germany. With the social definition comes 
the whole stock of valuations, beliefs, and expectations in the two groups, 
causing and constituting the order of color caste in America. 

This defines our problem in this and the next chapters. Our task is to 
describe the ancestry and the characteristics of this clearly delineated social 
group in America which is known under the somewhat incorrect term 
of the Negro "race." 

2. African Ancestry 

Part of the ancestry of the American Negro people is African, and it 
is proper to start out from this line of parentage as it is the one from which 
their name and status are derived. Too, the fact must not be ignored that 
ihe major proportion of their ancestors, back to the time of the first con- 
tact between Negroes and whites, is African Negro. 8 



n8 



An American Dilemma 



No official registration records were kept of the number of slaves 
imported, but compilations have been made on the basis of ship captains' 
reports and port records. The compilation which has been most extensively 
quoted has been that of Henry C. Carey, as modified by the United States 
Bureau of the Census. Carey estimated that a total of about 333,000 Negroes 
had been imported into the United States up to 1808, when federal law 
prohibited the slave trade. 9 Of this figure the Census Bureau said, "It is 
claimed, however, that this total is too small, and that a closer estimate 
would bring the number to 370,000 or even 400,000."' These slaves were 
brought from Africa and from the West Indies." 

TABLE I 

Carey's Estimates of the Number of Slaves Imported 
into the United States at Various Time Periods 





Number of 


Avrage 


Time Period 


Slaves 


Import 




Imported 


Pe Year 


Prior to 171 5 


30,000 


_ _ 


1715-1750 


90,000 


2,500 


1751-1760 


35,ooo 


3,5oo 


1761-1770 


74,500 


7,400 


1771-1790 


34,000 


1,700 


1791-1808 


70,000 


3,900 


Total 


333,500 





Sourtt: Henry C. Carey. Tkt State Trait (1853), p. 18. 

Some 50,000 more slaves were brought within the boundaries of the 
United States between 1790. and i860 by annexations of territory — 
principally of Louisiana, Florida and Texas. 10 There are not even private 
records to guide us in estimating how many slaves were smuggled into the 
country between 1808 and i860. Herskovits mentions the fantastically high 
figure of two and a half millions. 11 Dublin, after examining the data on 
smuggling and on births and deaths, concluded: "The unlawful trade in 
Negroes can at most account for the increase of less than one-half of 1 per 

* U. S. Bureau of the Census, A Century of Pa filiation Growth in the United States: 
ijao-iooo (1909), p. 36. A figure of slightly below 400,000 slaves imported before 1808 
seems reasonable in the light of the fact that the total Negro population was only 757,000 
in 1790 and that this estimate allows for an import of 330,000 up to 1790. 

* It is impossible to estimate how many came from Africa and how many from the West 
Indies, not only because no adequate records were kept, but also because there was the 
custom of bringing slaves intended for the United States first to the West Indies for a few 
years where they were made accustomed to their new life by the older West Indian slaves. 
It seems to be the consensus of opinion, however, that the proportion of West Indian 
slaves brought to the United States did not become significant until the nineteenth century. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 119 

cent a year. The rest of the increase, namely, about 2 per cent . . . repre- 
sented the excess of births over deaths." 13 Dublin's proportion of smuggled 
Negroes is equivalent to an absolute figure of about 563,000," but even this 
must be taken, as he says, to be a maximum figure. All estimates of the num- 
ber of slaves smuggled in between 1808 and i860 must be regarded in the 
light of the fact that apparently only 330,000 to 400,000 Negroes were 
imported during the entire period before 1808, when the slave trade was 
federally legal. Although it is possible that there were more slaves smuggled 
into the United States between 1808 and i860 than there were legally 
imported in the two centuries before 1808, it is probable that the former 
figure was, at best, not much larger. A good many of the Negro slaves who 
were liberated after the Civil War were African-born. Whatever historical 
research ultimately determines these two figures to be, it is extremely 
likely that the total number of slaves imported into the United States 
before i860, by whatever means, was less than a million. 

The Negroid element in the ancestry of the present-day American Negro 
people, whether brought here directly or via the West Indies, had its 
original home in Africa and in the islands close to that continent. 18 The 
population of Africa was not homogeneous during the period of the slave 
trade. 1 * In the region of the Sahara Desert and surrounding districts, there 
had been intermixtures between Negroids and Caucasoids for an unknown 
number of centuries. In the Southern portion of the Continent were the 
Bushmen and the Hottentots. In the section known as the "West Coast" — 
which is really only the central part of the African coast facing the Atlantic 
Ocean — lived the "true Negro." u The remainder of Central and Southern 
Africa was inhabited by various groups of Negroes who are often lumped 
together for convenience and called the "Bantu-speaking stocks." 

These problems — from what regions and from what Negroid peoples in 
Africa the Negro ancestors of the present-day American Negroes came, and 
in what proportions during various periods of the slave trade the direct 
and indirect import to America was furnished — are still far from settled 
in a conclusive way. Since anthropometric evidence is difficult or impossible 
to bring to bear on these problems — due, among other things, to the later 
miscegenation of the various Negro groups in America — anthropologists 
have had to rely on the relatively meager historical evidence that can be 
discovered, scanty oral traditions in Africa, and cultural remnants in the 

"The census reports an increase of 3,064,022 Negroes between 1810 and i860. The 
application of Dublin's ratio (4 to 1) to this gives 612,804 Negroes who had to be 
accounted for by factors other than natural increase. Some 50,000 of these came into the 
country when new territory was annexed. This leaves 561,804 as a maximum figure for 
the number smuggled. 

'This is a technical anthropological term, according to Herskovits, and should not bo 
taken to imply a value judgment that the West Coast Negroes are "truer" Negroes than 
any others. 



120 An American Dilemma 

New World." This evidence seems to indicate that the great majority of 
slaves brought directly to the United States came from the West Coast 
and hence belonged predominantly to that racial group known as the "true 
Negroes." A small proportion of the slaves came from other points in 
Central and South Africa and from Madagascar, some few also from East 
Africa and North Africa. 16 It would seem probable, however, that the 
proportion of slaves from parts of Africa other than the West Coast 
increased toward the end of the slave trade era, as it became increasingly 
difficult to get enough West Coast Negroes. But the proportion from other 
parts of Africa never became predominant. During the later period also, 
slaves were brought from the West Indies, and the Negro ancestors of 
these people came from all over Africa. 17 

Since Emancipation there has been an addition to the American Negro 
population through immigration. This has never been large, however. In 
1940 there were only about 84,000 foreign-born Negroes in the entire 
United States. Three-fourths of these were from the West Indies and so 
may be presumed to have a significant proportion of white and Indian 
ancestry. 18 Only about 1,000 came from Africa, but this does not necessarily 
mean that they were of unmixed Negroid stock. a In common with most 
foreign-born groups, these foreign-born Negroes have a high birth rate, 18 
and so tend to have an effect on the genetic composition of the American 
Negro people in slightly larger proportion than their small numbers 
would indicate. This effect is largely offset, however, by the facts that they 
are genetically much more like the native American Negro and that they 
are concentrated in Northern cities where the birth rate rapidly becomes 
depressed. Consequently, they will tend not to have such an important 
effect on the genetic composition of the American Negro population. 

3. Changes 'in Physical Appearance 

Even if we ignore the fact that there has been an admixture of white 
and Indian blood b into the American Negro population, there have been 
some changes in this population stock which make it different from those 
African tribes from which it has descended. Those who became slaves in 
America were only a selection of Africans, not a representative sample of 
them. They were probably made even less representative by the rigors of 
the displacement from Africa to America, which killed off a certain number 
of them. After the Negroes came to America, their biological composition 
was probably changed by differential reproductivity and possibly by mvla- 
tions. There may also have been environmentally caused changes in 

'While the total figures are from the 1940 Census, the proportions from the West Indies 
tad from Africa are from the 1930 Census. The latter figures for 1940 are not yet 
available. It a probable that these proportions have not changed significantly from 1930 
to 1940. . . . 

'Race mixture will be discussed in the following sections. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 121 

physical appearance which have no relation to genetic changes. About the 
effects of most of these causes of change, our knowledge is conjectural. 

The slave trade itself could be assumed to follow a selective pattern. It 
has been part of the system of popular beliefs of white people in America 
to assume that the captured slaves were predominantly of low class origin, 
of a docile nature and with less intelligence and courage than the average 
in their homeland. Modern research tends to rectify the idea of the extreme 
submissivencss shown by the American Negro in slavery — a belief which 
became of particularly great importance as part of the Southern ideological 
armor before and immediately after the Civil War— and also to render 
probable that the slaves were a cross-section of the population from which 
they were drawn. 20 Several instances of African royalty and nobility are 
recorded among the slaves. The means by which Africans were made slaves 
cannot be used to argue for any unfavorable selection. Persons who had been 
captured in war, who had committed crimes, or who had failed to pay 
their debts, were sold to traders. Other slaves were those who were simply 
kidnapped by the white traders or by their black assistants. Warfare and 
kidnapping were nonselective. Punishment for crimes or debt was certainly 
socially selective, but there is no evidence that it was biologically selective. 
In any case, this source of slaves was of rather small importance. 

Another source of selectivity— this one in the positive direction— might 
have been the rigors of the voyage from Africa to America. Available 
evidence is contradictory as to the extent of mortality during the period 
from the seizure of slaves in Africa to their ultimate sale in America. The 
old standard evidence pointed to a death rate as high as five-sixths of all 
Negroes captured. Some recent sources of information, however, mention a 
mortality as low as 13 per cent. 21 Even if the evidence were not contra- 
dictory as to the extent of mortality, the biologically selective nature of this 
mortality would not be definitely known — although it seems reasonable to 
suppose that the weakest died first. More definitely selective than the death 
rate was the unwillingness of the slavers to ship sick, disabled or wt*k 
persons. They were looking for the able-bodied to b: sent as slaves. 

Slavery as an institution must, in various ways, have hr. J selective effects 
upon the genetic composition of the American Negro population. Planta- 
tion owners, particularly in the slave-breeding states in the Upper South 
during the first half of the nineteenth century, took measures of positive 
eugenics in controlling mating. 83 The slave breeders can generally be 
assumed to have favored the reproduction of docile and physically strong 
specimens of the slave population. The historical sources give frequent 
references to such practices. Other practices— such as the killing of slaves 
who attempted to escape and the selling of "bad niggers" down the river 
to the Deep South where life expectancy was shorter— may also have 
had some genetic effect. 



122 An American Dilemma 

It is also possible to speculate about the eugenic effects of such selective 
factors of reproduction as the bad health conditions and the high mortality 
rates in the freed Negro population up to the present time and of the looser 
sex mores in the Negro population. But in these respects, as in regard to 
all the other sources of selectiveness mentioned above, the prudent con- 
clusion must be that our factual knowledge of each source is next to nothing, 
and that there is no possibility of weighing them together into a conclusion 
concerning their resultant effect upon the genetic composition of the Negro 
people. It is probable that we shall never come to know, in a scientific way, 
what these various selective factors have meant for the genetic composition 
of the American Negro people. 

Mutations, as well as selection, t» . have made the American Negro 
different in some respects and in some degree from the corresponding 
population groups of the African continent. There is no knowledge as to 
the number or character of the genetic mutations that have occurred in the 
Negro population since coming to the Western Hemisphere, but there 
have undoubtedly been some. Since the cessation of the slave trade, the 
Africans, too, must have had mutations that did not get transmitted to the 
American Negro people because of isolation. About this we know nothing. 

Such mutations must be distinguished from changes which appear to be 
"biological" but yet are not, or may not be, inherited by transmission of 
genes. In recent decades there have been many studies, usually not with 
specific reference to the Negro, indicating how such things as glandular 
activity, diet, and physical handling of infants may affect physical traits. 
Since Negroes experienced changes in climate, diet, and customary practices 
in care of infants, and perhaps even in glandular activity, when they made 
the drastic transition from Africa to America, their physical traits may be 
expected to have changed. The studies of physical changes of immigrants 
inaugurated by Boas 2i open the possibility that changes may occur even in 
such standard traits as head form. Since no anthropometric studies were 
made of Negroes before they were shipped to America, knowledge is lack- 
ing as to the specific character of the changes in physical form. But that 
there were some of this type, there is good reason to expect. 2 * Changes in 
cultural conditions since the period of slave importation, and the more 
recent migration from the rural South to the urban North, may also have 
modified the Negro's physical appearance since he landed on American 
shores.' 

The influences affecting the Negro's physical appearance are sometimes 
of an intentional type which do not need gross changes in environment to 
exert their efiects. The Negro woman can, and does, lighten her face 

* Id thil'paragraph we are considering only the physical changes due to direct environ- 
mentsU Ui<Uence». The psychic changes— which are probably more important — will be 
treated m, Chapter 6. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 123 

with powder and bleaches. The Negro can — but does not, usually, because 
of the high cost — remodel the shape of his nose and lips. The 
changes which can be effected by this conscious type of modification of 
physical appearance are not numerous, but they may increase with advances 
in medical and surgical knowledge. 

4. Early Miscegenation 

The slaves imported from Africa by no means represented "pure Negro 
races. ,> Of the original tribal stocks many had an admixture of Caucasoid 
genes from crosses with Mediterranean peoples. During the slave trade 
more white genes were added. The Portuguese who settled on the Guinea 
Coast had relations with the natives. The slave traders themselves were 
known frequently to have had 'promiscuous intercourse with their female 
merchandise. Even more important as a source of infiltration of white blood 
into the Negro slave population before arriving in what is now the United 
States was slavery in the West Indies. While some of the slaves in these 
islands came directly from Africa, others were brought indirectly by way 
of Spain and Portugal. The importation of Negro slaves into those 
European countries was in practice by the beginning of the sixteenth 
century, and by 1539 there is some evidence that it reached the figure of 
10,000 to 12,000 a year.""' It seems that there was extensive miscegenation 
in these two European nations. Part of the offspring remained and became 
engulfed in the population of the Iberian Peninsula. Those brought over 
to the West Indies formed a large proportion of their slave population. 
This continuously received further additions of non-Negro blood from the 
white and Indian inhabitants of these islands. No one knows exactly what 
proportion of the slave population of the United States was brought by way 
of the West Indies, but the proportion would be significant. As the slave 
import from the West Indies formed an increasing proportion of all slave 
importation during the later periods of slavery in America, and as Negro 
immigration after Emancipation has been largely from the West Indies, 
the elements in the American Negro people with the shortest line of 
ancestry in this country arc, therefore, not of purer breed but rather the 
contrary. 28 

Upon their arrival in the New World, one type of mixture which is 
important, although not often referred to in this relation, did not fer se 
involve Indian and white stock. We refer to the wholesale mingling of the 
various African stocks with each other. Historical sources from the period 
often ascribe to the slaveholders a conscious purpose to break up tribal 
coherence and allegiance between the slave masses in order to decrease their 
resistance against slavery. It was part of their being "broken in." 2T But 
even apart from such a purpose, a compulsory labor system managed by 
persons who, in any case, had no feeling for upholding tribal differentia- 



124 An American Dilemma 

tion, even when they did not consciously follow the opposite policy, must 
have had this result. This intermingling between the African tribes also had 
its beginnings in Africa, where commerce and wars, slaveholding and slave 
trade, for thousands of years, had this effect. 28 The extensive slave trading 
by Europeans after the discovery of the New World, and the stirring up of 
population movements in Africa caused thereby, only intensified a process 
already taking place. Its final consummation occurred in America.* 

In the United States miscegenation with Indians and whites occurred from 
the very beginning. Indians were held as slaves in some of the American 
colonies while Negro slaves were being imported. Equality of social status 
between Indians and Negroes favored intermingling. The whites had little 
interest in hindering it. 29 As the number of Negro slaves increased, the In- 
dian slaves gradually disappeared into the larger Negro population. Whole 
tribes of Indians became untraceably lost in the Negro population of the 
South. b Some Indian tribes held Negro slaves with whom they mingled, 
and some were active in the internal Negro slave trade. Runaway Negro 
slaves and free Negroes often took refuge in the Indian camps, where they 
then were kept as slaves or were adopted. They took part in the wars and 
insurrections and became completely amalgamated in the Indian tribes with 
which they lived. In a few cases the intermixture produced a group that 
was recognized neither as Indian nor as Negro. A few isolated groups of 
this type remain to the present day. 80 

During the nineteenth century, the Indians declined as a significant ele- 
ment in the population of the South, and those who remained began to 
take on the attitudes of the white man toward the Negro. From this 
time on, Indian-Negro mixture was probably no more important than 
Indian-white mixture in the South. But the early interbreeding between 
Negroes and Indians has beeft of greater importance for the genetic com- 
position of the American Negro population than has until recently been 
realized. 81 Twenty-seven and three-tenths per cent of the Negro sample of 
1,551 individuals examined by Herskovits claimed some Indian ancestry. 31 

The relations between Negro and white indentured servants during the 
seventeenth century had much the same social basis as the Negro-Indian 
intermixture. As already pointed out, some time lapsed before the imported 
Negroes were pushed down to the lower status of chattel slavery, and 
racial prejudice developed only gradually. All through, the colonial period, 
the white population showed a marked excess of males and a scarcity of 
females— as did also the Negro population— which ■per se is a factor tending 

* This intermingling, both in Africa and in America, will be considered again when we 
discuss the possible consequence of a new "brown race" in America. (See Section 9 of this 
chapter.) 

6 Many *tber Indian tribes, of course, moved West, so that the relative absence of Indians 
in the 8m& is by no means due solely to amalgamation with the more numerous Negroes. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 125 

to promote interracial sex relations. 88 It seems from the historical records 
that the two dependent groups — Negro and white servants — were often 
bound together by considerable sympathy during most of the seventeenth 
century j the extreme contempt and hatred between Negroes and poor 
whites which has prevailed into the present time seems, in any case, to 
be a later development. 8 * 

Sexual relations occurred under these conditions rather freely and 
a half-breed stock appeared early. Some of those early relations involved, 
as the sporadic historical sources reveal, white women; some of the rela- 
tions in both directions had the character of legal marriage. But from 
the beginning the much larger portion of the intermixture occurred between 
white men and Negro women and most of it was extra-marital. When a 
mulatto generation came into existence, it served as a new stimulus to 
relations between the Negro and white groups, as mulatto women were 
preferred to pure-blooded Negroes as sexual objects. Even if in these early 
relations it seems that most of the time the white male partner belonged to 
the lower classes, the higher classes, who owned and could dispose of their 
slave women, already had given a share to the paternity of the growing 
Negro population of America. 

Parallel to the stratification of the lower slave status for Negroes, the 
various states started to pass laws against intermarriage and other types of 
interracial sex relations. 83 It is apparent from a casual inspection of these 
laws that they were largely guided by the property holders' interest in keep- 
ing parents and offspring in slavery." Their chief effect upon interracial sex 
relations was probably to drive them even more toward the illicit type. 
It probably did not diminish their actual occurrence to any appreciable 
degree, since there was practically no attempt to enforce the law prohibit- 
ing interracial intercourse outside of marriage. 

5. Ante-Bellum Miscegenation 

As the slavery and plantation system became more firmly established in 
the early eighteenth century, a second stage was reached in Negro-white 
sex relations. White servitude was already on the decline while the num- 
ber of Negro slaves was increasing. Some authors hold the opinion that, 
as a result, miscegenation decreased considerably, but their arguments are 
not convincing. 80 

A final answer to this question will probably never be reached, the less 
so as the matter of interracial sex relations had become an important issue 
between the white Southerners and the Northern Abolitionists in the 
decades preceding the Civil War. The accusation that there was sexual 

* Before these laws were passed, there was some question as to whether the offspring: of 
a free person and a slave was free or not. There was also some question as to the legal 
status of both parents in such a case. 



126 An American Dilemma 

exploitation of Negro women was one of the most effective means of con- 
solidating public opinion against slavery in the puritan North. Thus 
Southern writers of the period avoided mentioning the point, especially 
as it involved white men of the master class and their female slaves. What 
the present writer has been able to read in historical sources and, in addi- 
tion, to learn from the rumors in the South leads him to believe that Wirth 
gives a balanced statement on the "amount of miscegenation during the 
period of slavery" when he says: 

The contemporary observers, on the whole, tend to leave an impression that no 
likely looking Negro, or more especially mulatto, girl was apt to be left unmolested 
by the white males; that very few of the young white men grew up "virtuously," 
and that their loss of virtue was scarcely to be attributed to cohabitation with white 
women. While such impressionistic statements lead to the inference that interracial 
sexual relations were normal experiences for at least the white men of well-to-do 
families, they reveal nothing concerning the proportion of Negro women and, of 
lesser importance, of Negro men, who entered into interracial unions. It is quite 
conceivable that the very great emphasis on the sexual activities of the white male has 
tended to obscure the extent to which large numbers of Negro women may have 
been free from any sexual experiences with men of the white race. 37 

It should not be assumed that interracial sex relations were a pattern only 
of the Southern rural plantations. There is general agreement, among the 
authors who have studied the question of interracial sexual relations of this 
period, that such relations — measured in proportion to Negro women 
involved — were even more frequent in the Southern cities and in the North. 
The Negro population in these urban communities contained a larger pro- 
portion of mulattoes, partly as a result of race mixture there and partly 
because slaveholding fathers of mulatto children sometimes freed their 
offspring and moved them to the cities or to the free territory in the North. 
The North contained more light-colored Negroes also because there were 
many states without laws prohibiting intermarriage. Mulatto women have 
always been preferred to full-blooded Negroes as sex mates. A large pro- 
portion of city Negroes were free} in the North all Negroes were free. 
Qty life — both in the South and in the North — was more anonymous, even 
for the slaves. In cities a larger proportion of Negroes were engaged in 
household work. They were fewer and were more scattered through the 
white population. All these factors tended to make interracial sex relations 
relatively more numerous in the Southern and Northern cities than in the 
Southern rural areas. The only factor, apparently, working in the opposite 
direction— to decrease sex contacts between the races in the North— was the 
North's lack of interest in breeding mulattoes for the slave market. These 
interracial sex relations in the North and in Southern cities had only a 
minor influence on the genetic composition of the total Negro population, 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 127 

however, since the bulk of the Negro population during the slavery period 
was rural Southern. 

6. Miscegenation in Recent Times 

The third stage of Negro-white sex contact came with the Civil War and 
its aftermath. The Northern army left an unknown amount of Yankee 
genes in the Southern Negro people. 38 The prolonged disturbances follow- 
ing the War were probably even more important. Reuter summarizes the 
situation in these words: 

The emancipation of the slaves and the breakdown of the master-slave relationship 
was followed by a prolonged period of profound disorganization. Restraints were 
removed and the manumitted slaves wandered in celebration. The period was one 
of more or less unrestrained promiscuity. 30 

This period was not a short one. When the Negro population gradually 
settled down in the caste status which had been substituted for slavery, sex- 
ual mores can be assumed to have been continued much along ante-bellum 
lines. The only new element in the situation, apparently, was the lack of 
interest in breeding mulatto children for the slave market, because the latter 
no longer existed. What evidence there is on interracial sexual relations 
during the later decades of the nineteenth century does not indicate that such 
relations were considerably less frequent than during slavery; they might 
even have been somewhat more frequent. 

It is more difficult to form even a conjectural judgment as to the amount 
of interracial sexual relations during the twentieth century and as to the 
present trend than it is to ascertain broadly the facts for earlier periods. 
Interracial sexual relations are more closely guarded than ever, and life 
is more anonymous and less fixed in groups about whose behavior simple 
and valid generalizations might be made. The slight increase in scientific 
research on the subject has not compensated for these trends. Among 
factors which might have tended to increase interracial sexual contact must 
be reckoned: increased Negro migration to cities and the North; slow but 
gradual urbanization even of rural districts in the South; and the seculariza- 
tion of sexual morals, particularly among the white population. Among 
factors tending to have an opposite effect are: in the white population, the 
gradual breakdown of the sexual double standard (making for easier accessi- 
bility of white women for extra-marital purposes), the balancing of the 
sex ratio, and the publicity about the high rate of venereal disease among 
Negroes; in the Negro population, the gradually increasing race pride, the 
relatively lessened value of concubinage with a white man, the slowly 
spreading middle class morality in sex matters. Public opinion in the 
South also has become firmer in condemning white men's sex relations 
with Negro women, and the segregation of the Negro people has become 
more complete. 



128 An American Dilemma 

There have been no scientific studies which even suggest tentatively the 
actual quantitative trend of interracial sexual relations. Most of the infor- 
mants the writer has questioned on local trends — but by no means all — have 
agreed in the belief that sex relations between members of the two groups 
are decreasing. The same opinion is expressed in the literature. 40 It should, 
however, be considered with the greatest reservation, as such an opinon 
is opportune in both the white and the Negro groups. The matter is of 
great social importance because of the way in which the Negro problem has 
been defined in America, and it is, therefore, urgent that science should 
bring light upon this phase of social life — in spite of the natural reluctance 
and perhaps even resistance from the side of the public. 

But even if interracial sexual relations were not decreasing, the offspring 
from intermixture may be decreasing. The scanty evidence available seems 
to point in this direction. 41 In considering trends in the injection of white 
genes into the American Negro population, the amount of sex relations 
between members of the two races is not the only factor which must be 
taken into consideration. 

An increased utilization of effective contraception, decreasing the rela- 
tive and absolute amount of mixed offspring, has the same genetic effect 
as decreased interracial sexual relations. Writers who have considered 
recent trends in miscegenation generally tend to ignore trends in use of 
contraceptive devices. 42 It is possible that, as means of effective birth control 
have become spread among the American population, they have been 
utilized with particular eagerness and efficiency in mixed sexual relations. 41 
The writer has, from the information he has been able to gather from 
doctors, social workers, Negroes with wide community knowledge, and, 
occasionally, from average Negroes themselves, got the impression that, 
at least in cities, even Negroes in lower strata have kept pace with knowl- 
edge about contraceptives. 44 

Even more important is a change in the character of interracial sexual 
relations. The more stable type of sex unions — marriage and concubinage — 
have probably been decreasing, 40 and these are the types of relations most 
productive of offspring.* On the other hand, prostitution is mostly sterile, 
while other casual types of relations may have increasingly involved the 
use of contraceptives. 46 

The probable decline in offspring with one white parent and one Negro 

parent should, therefore, not be taken to mean that interracial sex contacts 

have necessarily decreased: a rise in prostitution and other casual sex 

contacts may have counterbalanced the decline in marriage and concubinage. 

1 From a genetic standpoint, the only sex relations which matter are those 

*The cultnral, (octal, and personal side of miscegenation, the different types of sexual 
unions, the legislation against intermarriage and the research on intermarriage will be dealt 
with in later chapters on discrimination and caste. (See Chapters 29 and 31.) 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 129 

leading to mixed offspring. The scanty quantitative evidence, and general 
opinion seem to indicate that there has been a decline in the rate at which 
white genes are being added to the Negro population. 

7. "Passing" 

Because of the American caste rule of classifying all hybrids as Negroes, 
it might be thought that no Negro blood would ever get into the white 
population. However, some extremely light Negroes — usually having more 
white ancestry than Negro — leave the Negro caste and become "white." 
"Passing" is the backwash of miscegenation, and one of its surest results. 
Passing must have been going on in America ever since the time when 
mulattoes first appeared. Passing may occur only for segmented areas of 
life — such as the occupational or recreational — or it may be complete; it 
may be temporary or permanent; it may be voluntary or involuntary; it 
may be with knowledge on the part of the passer or without his knowledge; 
it may be individual or collective. 47 Usually the only kind that is 
important for the genetic composition of both the white and the Negro 
population is that kind which is complete and permanent.* 

Usually only the lighter colored Negroes pass in the United States. 
However, some of the darker do also by pretending to be Filipinos, Span- 
iards, Italians or Mexicans. Day's study further reveals how capable of 
passing are persons with one-fourth, three-eighths, and even one-half, 
Negro blood, not to speak of persons with even smaller admixtures. 48 
Because those who pass usually have more white ancestors than Negro, it 
is genetically less important that these people go over into the white world 
than if they were to remain in the Negro. Passing, therefore, involves far 
greater change in social definition of the individual than it does in his 
biological classification. 

It is difficult to determine the extent of passing. Those who have passed 
conceal it, and some who have passed permanently are not even aware of 
it themselves because their parents or grandparents hid the knowledge 
from them. Census data and vital statistics are not accurate enough to 
permit of estimates within reasonable limits. The possible methods for 
estimating the extent of passing are: (1) getting at genealogies by direct 
questioning or other means; (2) noting discrepancies between the observed 
numbers of Negroes in the census and those which may be expected on 
the basis of the previous census and birth and death figures for the inter- 
censal years; (3) noting deviations from normal in the sex ratio of Negroes. 
All these methods have been employed, but — for one reason or another — 
have not permitted us to state the extent of passing. 48 

"The cultural, social, and personal problems raised by the phenomenon of passing will 
be discussed in Chapter 31. 



130 An American Dilemma 

Passing has genetic significance for both whites and Negroes.* The whites 
get a certain admixture of Negro genes. This may modify certain charac- 
teristics of their physical structure to an extent which must be slight, on 
account of both the great size of the white population and the predominance 
of Caucasoid genes in the passers. It cannot make the white population 
much darker even if continued for a long time." The main genetic conse- 
quence of passing for the Negro people is that some of the near-Caucasoid 
elements are being constantly removed from the possibility of reducing 
the proportion of Negroid genes in the remaining American Negro popula- 
tion. This is, of course, a relative matter, since far from all light Negroes 
attempt to pass, and since many who cannot pass have a large admixture 
of white blood. Passing is apparently more common to men than to women, 
judging by opinion and the sex ratio. b This does not reduce the genetic 
significance of passing, however, since the contribution of genes by a father 
is just as great as that by a mother. Of some consequence for genetic com- 
position is the fact that young adults arc those who pass most frequently. 
These are the persons who bear most children, who are, consequently, 
usually lost to the Negro group. 

8. Social and Biological Selection 

There are no data to permit the conclusion that, in the rural South where 
most of the miscegenation has taken place, one social class of the white 
population was more responsible for the existence of the mixed-blood 
population than corresponds to its relative proportion in the population. 
Neither does the available evidence allow the contrary conclusion. But 
even if one social class of white people in the South should have been more 
predominantly involved in miscegenation, this would not necessarily have 
great genetic importance, since* it is not scientifically established that social 
classes of whites in the South differed significantly in genetic composition, 
in spite of the popular opinion that poor whites are degenerate. 51 It is also 
not possible to state that within the various social classes of whites, mis- 
cegenation has followed any pattern of individual selection. 

Turning to the Negro partners in miscegenation it would, however, on 
a priori grounds, seem probable that a factor of positive selection in mating 
could have been at work, at least until recent times when Negro pride 
became important. The Negro girl whose physical appearance and cultural 
manners approximated the prevalent standards in the higher caste would 

* In the following discussion and throughout the book, we discuss certain implications of 
the inheritance of skin color as an example of all physical traits which have significance for 
social status, such as breadth of nose, thickness of lips and hair form. 

* This probably occurs "because passing usually involves ecouomic advantages to Negro 
males who, mast compete in a white man's world, but economic disadvantages to a Negro 
female who could get a white husband only from the lower classes, but possibly a Negro 
husband from the upper classes. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 131 

certainly be preferred as a sexual partner. Such girls tended, at least after 
the first generation in America, to be mulattoes rather than pure-blooded 
Negroes. The fact that a similar preference probably occurred in the choice 
of Negro girls for household work, where they became more exposed to 
sexual advances, would strengthen its importance. Within the Negro 
marriage market the mulattoes' lighter skin has had, and continues to have, 
a strong competitive value. This can again be assumed to work as a factor 
of positive selection favoring the mulatto group: Dark males who have 
distinguished themselves in any way tend to take light mulatto women 
as wives. 

As a result of this marriage selection, whatever talent there is among the mulattoes 
remains among the mulattoes ; whatever talent there is among the black group marries 
into the mulatto caste. In either event the talent of the Negro race finds its way into 
the mulatto groups. The descendants of these talented'men are mulattoes, and what- 
ever of the father's superior mentality and energy they may show or carry becomes 
an asset to the mulatto group, and the full-blood group is correspondingly impover- 
ished. The mulatto caste loses none of its native worth and is constantly reinforced 
by the addition to it of the best of the variant types which appear among the 
numerically larger group. 53 

We cannot accept this line of reasoning, however, without qualifications, 
since it is not certain that whites have predominantly selected innately 
superior Negro girls to have sex relations with, or that socially successful 
dark Negroes who marry light girls are also biologically superior, or that 
the inferiority of the white parents of mulattoes has not balanced the 
superiority of their Negro parents. The proof that mulattoes are biolog- 
ically superior to full-blooded Negroes must go beyond the finding that 
mulattoes have made greater achievements than pure-blooded 'Negroes, 
since the latter have had more social handicaps than the former. 53 

Differences in fertility and mortality between groups with a varying 
degree of white ancestry must, through the generations, have affected the 
results of miscegenation upon the genetic composition of the present-day 
American Negro people. While opportunistic opinions have been expressed 
both to the effect that mulattoes were sterile, or more sterile, than full- 
blooded Negroes, on the one hand, and that they were unusually prolific, 
on the other hand, there is not the slightest shred of scientific evidence for 
either of these opposing popular beliefs. 54 

It is certain, however, that mulattoes are concentrated in cities in the 
higher economic brackets, where — because of greater use of effective birth 
control — they have a lower fertility than the Negro population as a whole. 
Nor does the probable lower death rate of mulattoes entirely counter- 
balance their lower birth rate. This differential reproductivity has been 
tending to reduce the proportion of white genes in the total Negro popula- 
tion. While other effects on genetic composition by differential reproduc- 



132 An American Dilemma 

tivity have been claimed (such as the presumed selective migration of 
superior Negroes to the cities, where the birth rate is low),' 5 these have 
thus far no basis in demonstrated facts. 

Length of residence of different elements of the Negro population in 
the United States must have had an influence on the genetic composition 
of the American Negro people. Because the Negro net reproduction rate 
has, until recently, been far above unity— so that a given group of American 
Negroes has always more than reproduced itself in the next generation— 
the earlier a certain element has entered the American Negro population, 
the greater the proportion of the total Negro population does this element 
form,* in relation to its original size. This factor operates on the genetic 
distribution of the descendants of the various African races in favor of the 
"true Negroes" from the West Coast, since Africans outside this latter group 
were probably not brought to America in significant numbers until the 
nineteenth century. The factor also makes less important the relative num- 
bers of Negroes coming via the West Indies, who also did not come in 
significant numbers until relatively recently. It also enhances the genetic 
significance of the earlier interracial sex contacts with the Indians and the 
indentured white servants brought from Europe in the seventeenth century. 
Finally, it makes more important the interracial sex contacts with the North 
and West Europeans that occurred in the earlier days than those with South 
and East Europeans that have tended to become relatively more numerous 
since the Civil War. 

9. Present and Future Genetic Composition Trends 

Everything said so far about the racial character of the slaves originally 
imported, about miscegenation and passing in this country, and about the 
various general factors which have influenced the American Negro stock, 
has been highly conjectural and speculative. Summing up this unsatisfactory 
knowledge can hardly lead to anything more than an expectation that the 
American Negro people should show up as a considerably mixed population 
group. It is the merit of Professor Melville J. Herskovits 58 that he has 
finally approached this problem directly and, taking his departure in 
anthropometric research of the present Negro group in America and its 
genealogy, has tried to ascertain the actual composition of the group. 

Herskovits' most significant finding was that 7 1 .7 per cent of his presum- 
ably representative sample of 1,551 Negroes, had knowledge of some white 
ancestry, and that 27.2 per cent knew of some Indian ancestry. 67 Hersko- 
vits claims that his sample is representative because the groups of Negroes 
'from various sections of the country were found to be similar in several 

"The element need not have remained intact in certain family lines, of course. The 
statement in the text refers to the proportion of genet in the Negro population, therefore, 
and not to the proportion of persons. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 133 

physical traits. This does not constitute proof of representativeness, how- 
ever, because it is likely that each group of Negroes (from each section 
of the country) is an upper class group, and Herskovits does not define 
the degree of closeness of trait which constitutes similarity. Too, the list of 
traits which were compared does not include color or other important 
differentiating traits. It is likely that Herskovits' sample contains too many 
upper class Negroes who are known to have a disproportionate amount of 
white ancestry.* The fact that many Negroes may not know of white 
ancestry of several generations back 68 may, however, counterbalance the 
selective factor in Herskovits' sample and leave his figure of 71.7 per cent 
with white ancestry not too inaccurate. Thus, while we cannot say that 
existing research permits a definitive answer to the question as to how many 
Negroes have some white blood, the best available evidence and expert 
opinion point to a figure around 70 per cent. This figure must tend to 
increase with time, if for no other reason than that full-blooded Negroes 
intermarry with mixed bloods and their offspring become mixed bloods. 
Herskovits' other important conclusion — that in many physical traits the 
present American Negro population shows less variability than its parent 
African Negro, American white, and American Indian populations, and so 
are rapidly forming a genetically homogeneous group — cannot be accepted 
as demonstrated. 88 

A forecast of the future trend of genetic changes must, in its very nature, 
be highly conjectural, and, if stretched beyond the next few decades, it 
cannot possibly be more than an amateurish guess. Even for the immediate 
future it can amount to little more than an enumeration of the relevant 
factors and a consideration of their interrelations. Any statement concerning 
the resultant effect of the forces at play has no greater validity than the 
specific premises stated concerning the primary factors at work. 

Miscegenation between American Negroes and whites is commonly be- 
lieved to be on the decrease. Even if it is not certain that sex relations 
between members of the two groups are decreasing, there is more reason 
to feel confident that children of white-Negro unions are becoming rarer, 
in both absolute numbers and relative proportions. Information on, and 
accessibility to, contraceptive devices is increasing; and their further 
technical perfection is generally expected among population experts. A 
decreasing rate of birth of offspring with parents representing the two races 
will not, of course, decrease the proportion of white genes in the Negro 
people but will slow down their further increase and postpone the distant 
possibility of full amalgamation. 

Passing is becoming easier in the more mobile and anonymous society 
of today and tomorrow. The more recent immigration of darker peoples 

"It also seems that Herskovits' sample contains too many Negroes from the Atlantic 
seaboard states, who are known to have a disproportionate amount of white ancestry. 



134 An American Dilemma 

from Eastern Europe and from around the Mediterranean Sea and also 
from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the rising social respect- 
ability of the American Indian, have made passing easier for the Negro. 
Warmer relations with the republics of South America will perhaps be an 
influence in the same direction. The increasing segregation, on the other 
hand, which tends to create economic and social monopolies for the Negro 
upper class (to which most of the light-colored mulattoes belong) will 
tend to decrease the desire to pass. So also will the rising race pride.' 
America is unique among all countries having a mixed population — not 
excluding countries like Brazil where discrimination is so much milder — 
in having a significant number of white or almost white Negroes, who 
could easily pass but prefer not to do so. 

As the individuals who pass must be near-white, the extent of passing 
is a function of the number of such individuals. Continued miscegenation 
between whites and Negroes will tend to increase that number; miscegena- 
tion between mulattoes and darker Negroes — as well as low reproduction 
rates for mulattoes — will tend to decrease it. What the trend of passing is, 
and will be, resulting from the interplay of these various factors, is impos- 
sible to ascertain on the basis of present evidence. 

The effect of passing, whatever its extent, is to neutralize the effect of 
miscegenation on the genetic composition of the Negro people. b It is even 
possible to conceive of a temporary condition in which the rate of passing 
would exceed the rate of addition of new white blood into the Negro group 
so that there would be a tendency for the American Negro group to 
become more negroidized. 

Differential re-productivity is a factor which can be expected to have 
a continuing importance within the next decades. 00 Our knowledge of social 
and economic conditions among the Negro people and of the development 
of differential reproductivity in other countries which are more advanced 
in birth control rather favors the forecast that present fertility differences 
^fcgtween the various Negro groups are not going to decrease much for a 
fr; lbng time." Infant mortality and, generally, mortality in the lower age 
groups may be expected, on the other hand, to become gradually more 
equalized. 11 There are, further, no sure signs that light-colored people will 
not remain in the upper class. Since, with increasing segregation, the Negro 

* See Chapter 30, Section 2. I 
k The effect of passing on the American white population can never become important 

because those who pass usually have more Caucasoid genes than Negroid, and because the 
numbers who pass are insignificant compared to the huge American white population. 

* Fertility differentials may decrease, however, if Southern states extend the policy, wh.'ch 
a few of them now have, of setting up birth control clinics in rural areas. (See Chapter 7;. 
Section 7^ 

'See Chapter 7, Section 1. 



Chapter 5. Race and Ancestry 135 

upper class is relatively growing, it can come to include a relatively greater 
number of black Negroes without losing many of its mulattoes. 

Reproduction differences have, in the main, the same effect on the Negro 
group as passing, except that the effect is not so exclusively concentrated on 
the extremely light-colored Negroes." This factor, therefore, enters into 
the balance between miscegenation and passing and makes it more probable 
that the effects of miscegenation can be fully, or more than fully, counter- 
weighted. 

Internal miscegenation within the Negro group between individuals 
with a varying degree of white ancestry is, and will in the future be, going 
on. The result is a tendency toward a slow but continuous equalization of 
Negro and white genes in, the Negro people, decreasing the relative num- 
bers at both the black and white extremes and concentrating the individuals 
ever closer to the average. The changes in position of the average itself 
will depend upon the balance, referred to above, between white-Negro 
miscegenation, on the one hand, and passing and reproductivity differ- 
entials, on the other hand. 

Immigration of Negroes (and mixed bloods) from the West Indies and 
from South America — the latter of which might become more important 
in the future — will, in so far as the immigrants enter the country as 
Negroes, somewhat change the genetic composition of the Negro people 
in a direction dependent upon the genetic constitution of the newcomers. 
As the stocks are not very different, 11 this factor, even if the immigration 
should increase, will not effect great changes in the American Negro people. 

The three main problems to be stressed in a theoretical analysis starting 
out from such considerations as those stated above — assuming immigration 
inconsequential, and disregarding the effects on the white population — are: 

(1) The interdependence between the various factors. Passing is, for 
example, a function of Negro-white and Negro-mulatto miscegenation 
and of differential reproductivity. 

(2) The position of the average in the various traits which differentiate 
whites from Negroes. This position is a function of miscegenation, 
passing and differential reproductivity. 

(3) The homogeneity of the Negro population. The degree of dispersion 
around the average is generally a function of internal miscegenation 
and, particularly in regard to the form of the frequency curve at the 
white end, a function of external miscegenation, passing and differ- 
ential reproductivity. 

" It has, of course, in contradistinction to passing, no effects at all on the white population. 

b They contain, however, relatively more genes of other original African stocks than the 
"true Negro," which predominated in the import to the United States, and of different 
groups of Indians than those that were to be found in the United States. They also bring 
their own mutations and other physical changes of the last four hundred yean. 



136 An American Dilemma 

The above generalizations may be integrated into a system of simple 
mathematical equations. In view of the paucity of data on the extent and 
trends of miscegenation, passing, and differential reproductivity, such a 
mathematical formulation could not be used to predict the probable future 
genetic composition and physical appearance of American Negroes. How- 
ever, it might have the value of allowing the student to realize more 
easily the logical possibilities in the future. It may also have the value of 
checking the looser type of judgments made even by respectable authors. 
The construction of such a theoretical model, however, is a major task in 
itself and is beyond the scope of this book. 

This chapter has mainly been a review of a great number of questions 
upon which science does not as yet provide precise and definite answers. 
We can, however, state confidently that there are no reasons to believe 
that a more complete amalgamation between whites and Negroes will 
occur within the surveyable future. It is even possible, though not certain, 
that the proportion of very light mulattoes who now, so to speak, form 
a bridge between the two population groups will decrease by passing and 
by marriage with darker Negroes. That the Negro group is not disappear- 
ing will be a theme of Chapter 7. Finally, we remind the reader again 
that the concept of the American Negro is a social concept and not a 
biological one. Even considerable changes in the genetic composition of the 
Negro people may leave the social problems, around which this inquiry is 
centered, unchanged. 



CHAPTER 6 

RACIAL CHARACTERISTICS 



i. Physical Traits 

In our discussion of "racial" characteristics, which is only a brief 
summary, we are separating those traits which are physical from those 
which are psychic, thus following the traditional division between anthro- 
pology and psychology. In presenting the facts, particularly on the physical 
traits, but also on the psychic traits, wc have to build upon studies mainly 
concerned with those traits in which Negroes differ from whites, which, by 
itself, represents a biased statement of the problem tending to exaggerate 
differences and minimize similarities. We are, furthermore, limited almost 
to what we have ourselves criticized — namely, presenting differences 
between the means of the two groups — because these are practically all the 
facts available. The dispersion around the means is usually measured only 
by standard deviation and other abstract indices which do not allow an inten- 
sive study of the concrete distribution and of overlapping. Still worse, the 
available data are so weak that even the differences between means cannot 
be said to be satisfactorily established. 

Ascertaining the differences between Negroes and whites in respect to 
physical traits involves not only measurements of Negroes but also the 
establishment of a "standard" set of measurements of whites. No anthropo- 
metric measurements of the American population have ever been under- 
taken on such a large scale and with such methodological precautions that 
valid comparisons between one sub-group and the rest of the population 
are made possible. Nearest the ideal in regard to large number of cases 
was the Army study, 1 but the technique of measurement had several weak- 
riesses. 2 

There are, however, a large number of studies on small samples of 
American Negroes and various groups of whites. For the Negroes, Hersko- 
vits' study is by far the best available. During his investigations, Herskovits 
tried to determine the representativeness of his sample; we have in the 
preceding chapter accounted for the general reasons why we cannot accept 
his claims. The investigators of white samples have not even made efforts 
to get representativeness. 

Apart from this question of representativeness, which is particularly 

"37 



138 An American Dilemma 

important because of the heterogeneous origin of the American population, 
the samples are often too small to allow even for reliability in a formal 
statistical sense, especially after differences in age and sex have been taken 
into account. There are also differences in criteria and in techniques of 
measurement utilized in the various studies which make comparisons 
extremely hazardous. Some of these differences can be accounted for, but 
some are hidden in the results and, consequently, unknown. Only when 
the two groups have been studied by one investigator in one integrated 
study is there full security on this point, but few such studies have been 
made; and they have no claims to representativeness and reliability. 8 

The white population most often used for furnishing a standard set of 
measurements of whites has been Hrdlicka's Old Americans.* Hrdlicka's 
sample — which includes 900 complete and 1,000 incomplete cases of indi- 
viduals measured over a period of 15 years — is not, and was never meant 
to be, representative of the white American population. It is instead a 
sample of those white Americans whose ancestors had been longest in this 
country — predominantly British, Germans and Scandinavians. To get his 
sample, Hrdli£ka took only Americans whose ancestors on both sides had 
been in the United States for at least two generations. The exclusiveness 
as to ancestral stock implied in this selection is coupled with a definite bias 
toward including a disproportionate number of persons of high socio- 
economic status. Only those "Old Americans" who did not marry the 
poorer immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were accepted as 
proper ancestors to the individuals in the sample. An even stronger source 
of bias in the same direction was Hrdlicka's device of selecting persons 
from patriotic societies, especially the Daughters of the American Revolu- 
tion, and from large Eastern universities. Also he made an intentional 
selection of persons who were healthy and "normal." The socio-economic 
bias generally, and particularly the demand for healthiness and "normal- 
ity," must be considered to be the more important as several physical traits 
are known, and some others are suspected, not to be true hereditary traits 
but to be determined also by nutrition and other environmental factors. 

Thus, to sum up, when Negroes are compared with whites, in the United 
States, and Hrdlicka's sample is used, they are compared with a vaguely 
defined group of "normal," healthy, white persons of Western European 
ancestry in which the upper classes were heavily over-represented. 
Hrdlicka's study has many outstanding qualities, but it offers a poor 
substitute for the standard set of measurements of a representative sample 
of the American white population needed for comparison when Negro 
physical traits are to "be determined. 

It is no exaggeration to say that no physical difference between the 
average American Negro and the average American white, not even differ- 
ence in color, has yet been measured quantitatively by research methods 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 139 

which conform to the rigid standards of statistics. The present undeveloped 
state of this field of physical anthropology should not lead us to accept 
low scientific standards and to make conclusions which are not warranted. 
At the maximum we are justified in drawing from available studies only 
rather qualitative statements concerning average differences, the actual 
quantities of which — as well as the actual spreads around the means — are 
not known or known only approximately, so that words and not figures are 
their more appropriate expressions. 

Compared to the average white man, the average Negro of the present 
day seems to exhibit the following physical traits: 6 head slightly longer 
and narrower j cranial capacity slightly less; interpupillary distance greater; 
nose broader; lips thicker; external ear shorter; nasal depth greater; nose 
and head shorter; torso shorter; arms and legs longer; pelvis narrower 
and smaller; stature shorter; skin with greater amount of black pigment; 
hair wavy, curly, frizzly or woolly; distribution of hair less thick; more 
sweat glands. Prognathism is greater, not because the brain case stops 
growing in early childhood, but because the upper jawbone continues to 
grow after the age at which that of the white man stops. A larger propor- 
tion of Negroes have brown eyes, black hair, and sacral pigment spots than 
do Old Americans. 7 This summary contains all those physical traits, 
reported by more than one anthropologist, that distinguish the American 
Negro from the Old American. The traits vary greatly among different 
groups of Negroes and in the total population of Negroes at different 
times, since — as we have seen — Negroes are not genetically homogeneous 
and stable. Stature, cranial capacity, and perhaps other traits are also 
modifiable by environmental changes over time, and the differences do 
not, therefore, necessarily, or wholly, represent hereditary traits. 

In many of these traits Negroes differ only slightly from white men; in 
nearly all of them there is some overlapping between Negroes and whites. 
The average person is, for these reasons, not aware of some of these differ- 
ences. Some of the traits are outstanding and easily visible in the average 
Negro — although nearly or entirely lacking in many individual members 
of the Negro group — such as dark skin, woolly hair, broad nose, thick lips 
and prognathism. They are the basic traits that account for the Negro's 
"social visibility." 

The white man might be aware of other differences but grossly exag- 
gerates them in his imagination, not because he has observed the differ- 
ences, but because he has certain opportunistic beliefs which he fortifies by 
hearsay testimony and by such occasional experiences of his own as happen 
to confirm his beliefs. He also usually attaches an incorrect interpretation 
to them. An example is the slightly smaller cranial capacity of the average 
Negro which the white man associates with alleged lower reasoning power 



140 An American Dilemma 

of the Negro despite the fact that no connection has been proved between 
cranial capacity and mental capacity. 

Certain traits are found only in popular beliefs and have no foundation 
at all in fact. Such are the beliefs that the time of suture closure in the 
brain case of the Negro is earlier than that of the Caucasoid, that the 
Negro's hands and feet are larger, and that his forehead slopes more. It 
would be instructive to trace the psychological significance of these and 
other false beliefs to those who hold them." To the same category belongs 
the belief that the Negro has different vocal cords. This is associated with 
the rather unique pronunciation and speech habits of a large proportion 
of the Negro population. 11 

Certain common beliefs have as yet not been checked by scientific re- 
search. This is, for instance, true of the beliefs that male Negroes have 
extraordinarily large genitalia and all Negroes a peculiar odor. 8 These 
beliefs have a strategic function in the justification of the American caste 
system. Occasionally even social scientists express the stereotypes with no 
evidence behind them. These beliefs are certainly not "the cause" of race 
prejudice, but they enter into its fixation. 

Since measurements of the American Negro are intended to be those 
of the average individual, and since the majority of American Negroes 
are mulattoes, the traits measured arc predominantly those of mulattoes. 
Little is known of the actual mechanism of inheritance of the various traits 
when races cross, except that it is far from being simple Mendelian inherit- 
ance. Anthropologists who have studied the biological effects of miscegena- 
tion have been forced to use the indirect technique of observing what 
differences are found on the average between persons of varying degrees of 
white blood. They find the changes in traks from those of the pure Negro 
type to be roughly proportional," on the whole, to the amount of admixture 
of white blood. 10 

Little is known about the functional correlates of the physical traits of 
Negroes, although if might be expected that there are some. There has 
been some speculation, for example, as to what anatomical traits of Negroes 
cause their supposed superiority in athletics, but no one has yet succeeded 
in proving any hypothesis, and, therefore, it is not known whether the 
superiority, if it exists, has a genetic basis or not. 11 

2. Biological Susceptibility to Disease 

There is one type of physical trait which has not usually been discussed 
by anthropologists but which has' occupied medical students for generations 

* See Chapter 4, Section 7. 

k Such cultural difference* will be discussed in Chapter 44. 

* See Chapter 4, Section 7, and Chapter 28, Section 5. 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 141 

and which, if substantiated, would have great practical importance. We 
refer to the possibility of a differential susceptibility to various diseases. 

The discussion concerning whether the Negro is innately susceptible to 
certain diseases has had a history similar to the discussion concerning 
whether the Negro is mentally inferior to the white man. 12 The first 
inference was that the difference in specific disease rates was due to differ- 
ences in biological constitution. An elaborate explanation was built up in 
terms of the Negro's biological inability to adapt to a cold climate, the 
dark color of the Negro's viscera, the maldistribution of the Negro's nerve 
cells, and so on. The great decline in the Negro death rate since the turn 
of the century, almost paralleling, at a higher level, the decline in the 
white death rate," forced investigators to recognize environmental factors. 
The mode of investigation then became one of holding constant a few 
environmental factors — such as rural-urban residence and economic status — 
and attributing the remaining discrepancies to differences in innate suscepti- 
bility. In some studies the explicit assumption is made, without evidence, 
that there are no other relevant differences in the average living conditions 
of Negroes and whites. In other studies the same assumption is made 
implicitly. Few, if any, investigators have realized fully that the whole 
mode of existence of Negroes — with their segregation, over-crowding, 
and ignorance — helps to create a higher disease rate as compared to whites; 
and that these factors cannot be held constant completely because there 
is no group exactly comparable in the white world. 

The implication is that only an experimental procedure, in which all 
environmental factors were controllable, would answer the question as to 
what degree the present difference in disease and death rates is due to an 
inferior biological constitution on the part of the Negroes. This experiment 
would have to take into consideration the fact that resistance to disease is 
a function not only of heredity and environment at a certain time, but also 
of environmental conditions throughout the life history of the individuals 
under observation — for resistance to disease is built up in an individual 
during his childhood and even before his birth. 13 

We may briefly consider the facts concerning differences in disease and 
death rates between Negroes and whites." First, we must observe that the 
reporting of deaths and the designation of a cause of death are very 
inadequate. This has significance in studying differences between Negroes 
and whites, for Negroes are concentrated in those population groups for 
which reporting is least complete. Second, the fact that certain beliefs are 
prevalent about Negro susceptibilities, and that there is often a question 
as to what shall be reported as the "cause of death," make the official 
statistics an imperfect source for determining ethnic differences in disease. 
This is especially important in the case of those diseases to which Negroes 

' See Chapter 7, Section a. 



144 An American Dilemma 

the environmental factors to determine that the heredity of the Negro is 
such as to make him more or less susceptible to certain diseases than the 
white man. Even disease susceptibilities and immunities that are passed on 
from parent to child may not be genetic, since infection may occur before 
or after birth, and some environmental influences on the mother are visited 
upon her unborn children. 

That there may be hereditary differences in mental or physical diseases 
we cannot deny." But what we do know about the changes in the disease 
rate and the differentials in incidence under different environmental condi- 
tions leads us to the conclusion that any hereditary differentials in suscepti- 
bility (which may ultimately be detected) are likely to be small in compari- 
son to the changes which can be brought about by varying the mode of 
living and the quality of medical care. Too, susceptibility does not mean 
disease: for proper preventive efforts can reduce the ill-effects of any 
degree of susceptibility. Our practical conclusion is, therefore, that there 
is no reason for feeling complacent about the higher disease and death rates 
of Negroes on the ground that they have a greater innate susceptibility. 

3. Psychic Traits 

Most of the physical differences between Negroes and whites may be 
directly translated into terms of esthetic valuation, capacity for physical 
labor, and bodily healthiness. Except in the first respect, which, of course, 
is subjective, they do not, even if exaggerated, warrant any great depre- 
ciation of the Negro as a fellow human being. The differences, assumed 
or factual, as to size and structure of the brain have, in addition, been 
utilized for supporting beliefs in innate characteristics which are vastly 
more important — namely, the Negro's mental abilities and general psychic 
inclinations, and, consequently, his capacity for culture and morals. The 

* The fact that the Negro is somewhat different physically from the white man makes 
it likely that there are small racial differences in susceptibility. But nothing is definitely 
known about this, and the physical differences may have a complicated effect, as the 
following example will show. The black pigment in the Negro's skin is a protection against 
sunlight, and some investigators — but not all — think this involves a lessening of the amount 
of ultra-violet light absorbed by Negroes. Since ultra-violet light is a preventive of rickets, 
and since Negroes seem to have more than their fair share of rickets, some have claimed 
that the Negro's black skin has given him a greater biological susceptibility to rickets. But 
the skin of Negroes secretes more sebum, which makes ultra-violet light more potent. Too, 
diet deficiencies are a demonstrated cause of rickets, and Southern Negroes have notorious 
diet deficiencies. (See Julian Herman Lewis, The Biology of the Negro [1942], pp. 94-96.) 

Similarly, the Negro's supposed emotional traits have been advanced to explain certain 
of the diseases for which he has a high rate. For example, his excitability is supposed to 
cause hypertension of the heart, but his kck of excitability has been advanced by some to 
explain his high rate of angina pectoris — another heart disease. Neither the emotional traits 
nor their connection with the diseases in Negroes have been demonstrated. {Ibid., pp. 291- 
299.) 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 145 

belief in the innate inferiority of the Negro in mental capacities and moral 
traits has naturally been central in the race dogma from the beginning. It 
is strategic in the justification of color caste. Obvious culture inferiorities, 
existing in the Negro population, made an inference back to innate cultural 
capacities not only opportune but also easy and, in fact, to be expected. 

When direct attempts were made to study scientifically these psychic 
differences and to measure their magnitude, virtually no one — or at least 
very few 20 — had any doubts that they really existed as biological traits, 
and that they were large. The history of the measurement of the psychic 
traits of the American Negro began with attempts to quantify what was 
already "known" about him. And usually the scientists found what they 
were seeking. 

Ferguson," for example, proceeding on his "demonstration" that the 
superiority of whites was "indubitable," even after various environmental 
influences were held "constant," correlated performance with skin color 
and found a perfect upward progression from pure Negro, through three- 
fourths pure Negro, mulattoes, and quadroons. 27 Ferguson even went so 
far as to attempt a quantitative statement of intelligence differences among 
the different color groups. "It is probably correct to say that pure Negroes, 
Negroes three-fourths pure, mulattoes and quadroons, have, roughly, 60, 
70, 80, and 90 per cent, respectively, of white intellectual efficiency." He 
dismissed the possibility that social differences may have caused the differ- 
ences in performance: "Among Negroes in general there are no considerable 
social distinctions based on color. A colored person is a Colored person, 
whether he be mulatto or Negro, and all mingle together as one race." 
Another example may be taken from the report of one of the earliest and 
most publicized studies of Negro-white personality differences. 28 The 
author, who concludes that Negroes are much less able to inhibit their 
impulses, significantly begins his paper with the statement: "It is with the 
issue here raised that the present study primarily concerns itself. Namely: 
what is the psychological explanation of the impulsiveness, improvidence 
and immorality which the Negro everywhere manifests?" 

For a time it seemed as if finally a firm basis was being laid for a science 
of psychic racial differences, extending our knowledge, not only by quanti- 
fying the apparent differences in innate cultural capacities, but by specifying 
the particular respects in which the Negro was inherently inferior to the 
white man. When we now look back on this stage of psychological research, 
we must remember that there was this common belief of Negro inferiority 
and, in addition, that many of the earlier studies had a direct or indirect 
connection with practical questions, such as segregation in schools, which 
tended to enforce the opportunistic bias. 

Independent of any special bias, or of the general bias inherent in the 
total cultural situation of American caste society, the scientist of that day 



14.6 An American Dilemma 

had to say to himself, as most authors are saying today, that psychic differ- 
ences simply are to be expected. We know that individuals are different, 
and that heredity is an appreciable component in individual differences. 
We know also that there are average physical differences between Negroes 
and whites, although we have not succeeded in measuring them. Hence 
why should there not be innate fsychic differences as well? Why should 
not the differences in ancestry and in the natural and cultural factors which 
have influenced biological history somewhat differently for the average 
American Negro also show up in differences as to average character, 
temperament, sensory powers and intelligence? Professor Boas, who cer- 
tainly did not share in any bias in favor of racial differences, said: 

It does not seem probable that the minds of races which show variations in their 
anatomical structure should act in exactly the same way. Differences of structure 
mutt be accompanied by differences of function, physiological as well as psychological ; 
and, as wc found clear evidence of difference in structure between the races, we 
must anticipate that differences in mental characteristics will be found. 29 

With particular reference to Negro-white differences, Boas said: 

... it would be erroneous to assume that there are no differences in the mental 
make-up of the Negro race and of other races, and that their activities should mix 
in the same lines. On the contrary, if there is any meaning in correlation of anatom- 
ical structure and physiological function, we must expect that differences exist. 30 

Such statements are made by almost everyone who touches- the problem. 

In view of these presumptions and biases, whether valid or invalid, the 
startling thing is that psychological research has failed to prove what it 
set out to prove. Huxley and Haddon — who, like most of the others, 
emphasize that "It is clear that there must exist innate genetic differences 
between human groups in regard to intelligence, temperament, and other 
psychological traits . . ." 31 — make the important remark that it is "not 
without significance that such an enormous mass of investigation has failed 
to demonstrate what so many are eager to prove." 32 This fact is of some 
importance as it should increase our right to feci confident in the results 
of the scientific trend, on the part of scientists, toward finding no psychic 
difference between Negroes and whites. The desire to attain methodolog- 
ically valid results is tending to overcome — in the long run — presumptions 
and biases. 

Research on psychic differences has, almost from the beginning, been 
dominated by methodological criticism and a.gradual refinement of research 
methods. The story has been told several times in technical and popular 
works and will not be retold here. 83 A few generalizations may suffice. 

A» is the case of the similar problems in regard to the differences be- 
tween social classes and between the two sexes, the great differences between 
individuals within each of the two groups tended from the beginning to 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 147 

make judgments more relativistic concerning the differences between the 
Averages of the groups. The large amount of overlapping brought out the 
fact that both Negroes and whites belonged to the same human species and 
had many more similarities than differences. The averages themselves 
tended to come nearer each other when the measurements were refined to 
exclude more and more the influences of differences in environment, such 
as education, cultural background and experience, socio-economic class; and 
the social factors in the test situation itself, such as motivation and rapport 
with the tester. 

The intensive studies of these last influences proved, in addition, that 
no psychological tests yet invented come even close to measuring innate 
psychic traits, absolutely undistorted by these influences. They rather 
rendered it probable that average differences would practically disappear 
if all environmental factors could be controlled. Psychologists are coming 
to realize that they are not, and probably never will be, measuring innate 
traits directly but are, rather, measuring performance in a limited number 
of selected tasks, and that performance is determined — in a most complex 
fashion — by many influences besides innate capacity. 

Most of this work has concerned intelligence, as measured by the Intelli- 
gence Quotient. The inferences to be drawn are, on the whole, negative as 
far as hereditary differences are concerned: it has not been possible to prove 
beyond doubt the existence of any differences at all in innate intelligence 
between American Negroes and whites j neither has it been possible to 
prove, on the other hand, that no differences exist. In regard to environ- 
mental factors the inferences are, however, positive: it has been proved 
that environmental differences account for large differences in the measured 
intelligence performances. Present evidence seems, therefore, to make it 
highly improbable that innate differences exist which are as large as is 
popularly assumed and as was assumed even by scholars a few decades ago. 

What is here said about the general level of intelligence applies also to 
more specific mental traits. Nothing is definitely proved in the nature of 
qualitative differences j even the suggestion that Negro children have 
superior memory is not proved. 84 Neither is it made credible that there are 
fewer Negroes in the highest ranges of intelligence. 33 The earlier assumed 
difference that the intelligence of Negro youth ceases to develop at an 
earlier age does not stand criticism. 80 Nothing is proved concerning differ- 
ences between Negroes and whites in sensory powers. Other personality 
traits have been studied, but such studies have yielded no conclusions with 
regard to innate differences which could be considered valid. 37 Finally it 
should be mentioned that studies of different groups of American Negroes 
with a different amount of white blood have not given more positive 
results. 88 

These negative conclusions from many decades of the most painstaking 



148 An American Dilemma 

scientific labor stand in glaring contrast to the ordinary white American's 
firm conviction that there are fundamental psychic differences between 
Negroes and whites. The reason for this contrast is not so much that the 
ordinary white American has made an error in observation, for most 
studies of intelligence show that the average Negro in the sample, if judged 
by performance on the test, is inferior to the average white person in the 
sample," and some studies show that the average Negro has certain specific 
personality differences from the white man, b but that he has made an error 
in inferring that observed differences were innate and a part of "nature." 
He has not been able to discern the influence of gross environmental 
differences, much less the influence of more subtle life experiences. The 
fact should not be ignored, however, that he has also made many observa- 
tional errors, because his observations have been limited and biased. 

Even as long ago as 1930 — and that is long ago in this field of study, 
which is comparatively recent and has developed rapidly — a questionnaire 
circulated among "competent scholars in the field of racial differences" 
revealed that only 4 per cent of the respondents believed in race superiority 
and inferiority.'" It is doubtful whether the proportion would be as large 

* Summaries of studies using intelligence tests make it quite clear that Negroes rank 
below whites. See: (1) T. R. Garth, Race Psychology (1931)5 (z) Paul A. Witty and 
H. C. Lehman, "Racial Differences: The Dogma of Superiority," Journal of Social 
Psychology (August, 1930), pp. 394.-418; (3) Rudolph Pintncr, Intelligence Testing 
('9301 PP- 43*-433i (4) Otto Klineberg (editor), C/iatacteristics of the American Negro, 
prepared for this study; to be published, manuscript pages 1-119. Not all groups of 
Negroes have been found inferior to all groups of whites, however. In the Army intelligence 
tests during the First World War, for example, the Negroes of the Northern states of Ohio, 
Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania topped the whites of the Southern states of Mississippi, 
Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia. See Otto Klineberg, Negro Intelligence and Selective 
Migration (1935), p. z. 

* It is not so much in the simple personality traits — measurable by existing psychological 
tests— that Negroes differ from whites, but in the complex traits connected with the cultural 
differences. Klineberg's recent summary shows that few, if any, psychological studies indicate 
Negro-white personality differences. ("Experimental Studies of Negro Personality," in 
Klineberg (editor), Clutracteristics of the American Negro, manuscript pages 1-65.) For a 
discussion of Negro personality and culture, see Chapters 36, 43 and 44. 

* Charles H. Thompson, "The Conclusions of Scientists Relative to Racial Differences," 
The Journal of Negro Education (July, 1934), pp. 494-5 1*. Although this study was not 
published until 1934, the questionnaire on which it was based was circulated in 1929-1930. 

This trend toward the repudiation of all positive findings with respect to racial differ- 
ences may be exemplified further by a statement made by Professor C. C. Brigham, whose 
A Study of American Intelligence (1923) was one of the references most frequently cited 
by those who held to Negro-white differences in intelligence. After reviewing studies made 
by others in the late 'twenties, Brigham concludes: 

"This review has summarized some, of the more recent test findings which show that 
comparative studies of various national and racial groups may not be made with existing 
tests, and which show, in particular, that one of the most pretentious of these comparative 
racial studies— the writer's own — was without foundation." ("Intelligence Tests of Immi- 
grant Groups," Psychological Review (March, 1930), p. 165). 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 149 

today. The attitude of the psychologists reflects the state of the scientific 
findings in their field. 

But while they seem to be negative, these conclusions of psychological 
research have probably been more revolutionary and practically important, 
with respect to the Negro problem, than the conclusions from any other 
sphere of science. It is true that science's last word has not been said even 
on the Negro's innate intelligence and still less on his other psychic traits. 
But the undermining of the basis of certitude for popular beliefs has been 
accomplished. Also the research literature on the subject indicates that 
even if future research should be able to establish and measure certain 
innate psychic differences between American Negroes and whites, on the 
average, it is highly improbable that such differences would be so large, 
that — particularly when the overlapping is considered — they could justify 
a differential treatment in matters of public policy, such as in education, 
suffrage and entrance to various sections of the labor market. This is a 
practical conclusion of immense importance. 

For the theoretical study of the Negro problem in all its other branches 
— from breadwinning and crime to institutions and cultural accomplish- 
ments — the negative results in regard to heredity and the positive findings 
in regard to milieu are also of paramount importance. It means that when 
we approach those problems on the hypothesis that differences in behavior 
are to be explained largely in terms of social and cultural factors, we are 
on scientifically safe ground. If we should, however, approach them on the 
hypothesis that they are to be explained primarily in terms of heredity, we 
do not have any scientific basis for our assumption. 

4. Frontiers of Constructive Research 

The main need in physical anthropology is an application of some of the 
general precepts of statistics. No accurate description can be made of the 
physical traits of a group of people unless one measures a representative 
sample of that group. It may be stated bluntly that no anthropologist has 
yet measured a representative sample of Americans, or any specific sub- 
group of Americans." In making measurements, differences in age, sex, 
economic status, and ethnic background need to be taken into consideration. 
These demands on representativeness and specification will imply demands 
for larger samples than individual investigators can be expected to handle 
on their own resources and, consequently, planned cooperative work is 
necessary. 88 In the selection of traits to be measured, a more unbiased and 
comprehensive approach should be adhered to, so that interest is awarded 
equally to traits where groups can be expected to be similar on the average 
and to traits where the expectation is the contrary. Instead of reporting 
results only in terms of abstract averages, standard deviations, and coeffi- 

* See footnotes 3, 4, and 5 of this chapter. 



150 An American Dilemma 

dents of correlation, they should be presented in terms of the concrete 
frequency distributions as well, so that dispersion, exceptions, overlapping, 
and number of cases may be easily determined. 40 

The importance of environmental factors for physical traits needs more 
stress. Indeed a new direction in problems for research may be had by turn- 
ing from existing averages and limits to changes in traits which accompany 
certain unplanned or induced changes in environment and biological func- 
tions. Boas' research 41 on the changes in the physical traits of immigrants 
opened up problems for further research which are still far from solved 
after an interval of over thirty years. For the anthropology of the Negro, 
it may be observed that the possible physical correlates of the northward 
migration, of the improvements in diet, of the decline in many specific 
disease rates, of the increased wearing of shoes, and of many other changes, 
have never been studied. Controlled biological experiments on the Negro 
are not out of the question: Concentrated vitamin Bi has been administered 
to white persons and the effects of greater energy and optimism and lesser 
susceptibility to fatigue noted. 42 Is it not a reasonable and verifiable hypo- 
thesis that the administration of concentrated doses of vitamins would have 
even greater effects on Negroes, whose diets are, on the average, even 
more deficient than those of whites? 

The possibilities of redirecting psychological investigation are perhaps 
even greater. Even if the intelligence and personality measurement devices 
cannot be used to measure innate differences between Negroes and whites, 
they may be invaluable in detecting cultural differences and thereby in 
suggesting spots where education could improve Negroes. Recently, 
students of the Negro — following the lead of social anthropologists 48 — 
have been putting mental testing devices to this use. 44 In general, psycho- 
logical measuring devices can be used as instruments for detecting social 
differences, for predicting individual behavior in certain types of situations, 
and for suggesting techniques of control and improvement. 

The idea of using the intelligence tests as devices for measuring the 
psychological effects of unplanned or induced changes is not new to the 
psychologists. A large number of studies have been made of the effects of 
foster homes on the Intelligence Quotient of children. 48 In 1935, Klineberg 
reported a study in which he showed that there was a correlation between 
the I.Q. of Negro school children who had immigrated to New York 
from the South and the length of their residence in New York. 49 Canady 
has reported that a group of Negro students showed an average I.Q. six 
points higher when tested by a Negro psychologist than when tested by 
a white psychologist, and that a group of white students showed an average 
I.Q. six points lower when tested by a Negro psychologist than when tested 
by a white psychologist. 47 
While many other examples could be cited of the use of intelligence tests 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 151 

to measure the influences of various environmental changes on the I.Q., 
this field has, however, as yet scarcely been tapped. With reference to the 
Negro, the writer knows of no studies which have been made to determine 
the effect on test performance of such influences as: the shock of the Negro 
child when he first learns that he is a Negro and realizes the social import 
of this fact j foster-placement in white homes; isolated development in 
white neighborhoods while still in the parental Negro home; shock of 
news about lynching as compared to other types of shock unconnected with 
race relations; group testing of Negroes isolated among white children 
as over against group testing of these same Negroes among other Negro 
children; various locations for the administration of tests to the same 
group of Southern Negroes, such as Negro schools, white schools, and 
courthouses; new schools and educational equipment in the same or differ- 
ent locales; special training in language usage, vocabulary, and logic; 
special rewards of different types (having some significance in the Negro 
world and in race relations) for high performance; and other significant 
influences. 48 To determine the effect on test performance of such influences 
the experiment must be set up very carefully. The effect of the influences 
should be noted, not only on intelligence test performance, but also on 
performance on the various types of personality trait measurement devices. 

The type of research suggested here would involve a radical change in 
point of view in psychological research. It would be freed from the tradi- 
tional discussion of racial traits and no longer look upon the environmental 
factors and their psychic effects as simple modifiers which hinder the 
attempt to determine psychic traits conceived of as static biological entities, 
a measurement of which would be eternally valid. It would rather look on 
environmental factors and their effects as the main objects for study. The 
psychic traits would be comprehended as continually changing ways of 
acting, and as the product of an individual's original endowment and all 
his life experiences as actively integrated by him into a unity. 

Environmental stimuli would be studied as experiences from the point 
of view of the individual, and effects on intelligence and personality would 
be correlated with these experiences and not simply with external economic 
status, education, housing and so on. The effect of a new experience is not 
simply one of addition or subtraction, since an individual defines this 
experience in terms of all his previous experiences. No environmental 
stimulus has the same effect upon different individuals since it affects 
different individuals after they have had different experiences in different 
succession. 

The question as to what extent and in what ways biological constitution 
determines individual differences in performance on intelligence and per- 
sonality tests can no longer be answered by conceiving of certain inherited 
traits as constituting independent variables which can be thought of as 



152 An American Dilemma 

isolated. Two of the specific questions which should be asked — from the 
point of view discussed here — to determine the role of heredity in intelli- 
gence and personality have been stated in a report sponsored by the Social 
Science Research Council: 

In studying this problem two questions should be considered. First, to what extent 
do individuals differ in degree of flexibility to environmental influences — i.e., are 
the congenital attributes of some persons less subject to modification by environ- 
mental forces than arc those of other persons? Secondly, to what extent does the 
congenital equipment of the person determine his subsequent environment — i.e., to 
what extent do his congenital traits predispose him to select or modify various 
aspects of his environment?* 

Little of the existing research on the role of heredity in the determination 
of psychic traits and capacities has been undertaken with either of these 
two questions in mind. As we have seen, the presumption has been — and 
still is, among most students — that, because there are certain physical differ- 
ences between Negroes and whites, there may also be expected to be certain 
psychological differences. This docs not necessarily follow, however, and 
the use of the presumption as a working hypothesis is a source of bias, for 
the following reason: Everything we know — from the work of the child 
psychologists, the psychiatrists, and the social psychologists — about develop- 
ment in the individual indicates that specific psychic traits, especially 
personality traits, but also the components of intelligence, 50 are not present 
at birth and do not "maturate" but actually develop through experience. 
Specific psychological traits, therefore, cannot be compared with specific 
physical traits in respect to their hereditary determination. 

Whether underlying capacities and the most general personality traits — 
speed of reaction, for example — differ in average between the two races 
is not known, but it should not be forgotten that they are never subject to 
direct observation in the same sense that physical traits are. Thus, even if 
there were some hereditary differences in psychic traits and capacities, it 
would still not be necessary for empirically observable traits and capacities 
to differ at all between the two races. It is possible that we shall never know 
if there are hereditary differences in psychic traits between the average 
Negro and the average white man. The fact of being a Negro is so inter- 
woven with all other aspects of a Negro's life that to hold constant these 
other aspects (e.g., economic and social status, education, and so on) would 
be equivalent to holding the racial factor constant also. 

From the standpoint of the attainment of pure scientific knowledge, it 
is, of course, unfortunate that the early measurement of psychic traits of 
different social groups was guided by biased assumptions. When viewed in 
an historical context, however, it becomes apparent that biased popular 
opinion gave psychologists the stimulus to go out and try to measure the 
things which were previously only the subjects of impression. After the 



Chapter 6. Racial Characteristics 153 

biased conclusions were made, they came to be criticized on grounds of 
methodological inadequacy. Thus began a trend toward improvement of 
techniques and qualification of conclusions that Jed to much of the present 
knowledge about the actual forces determining the intelligence and person- 
ality of disadvantaged groups. Such knowledge has been used and is being 
used to great advantage in the correction of popular beliefs. 

Now that this phase of scientific effort is coming to a climax, psycholo- 
gists can begin to direct their efforts in a more positive direction. While 
the pioneer outposts of this new research have given us several stimulating 
hints of the direction of this research, the field is still open for challenging 
hypotheses as yet not thought of. 



Part IN 
POPULATION AND MIGRATION 



CHAPTER 7 

POPULATION 



i. The Growth of the Negro Population 

There were about 17 times as many Negroes in the United States in 
1940 as there were in 1790, when the first census was taken, but in the 
same period the white, population increased 37 times (Figure 1). Negroes 
were 19.3 per cent of the American population in 1790, but only 9.8 per 
cent in 1940. Except for the first decade in the nineteenth century and the 
1930's, this proportion has been steadily declining. The trend in the propor 
tion has been governed by the natural increase of the two population 
stocks, by expansion of the territorial limits of the United States and by 
immigration. Since all figures on these things are uncertain, it is not possible 
to make an accurate imputation of the changes in the relative importance 
of these factors. Since descendants of immigrants after the second genera- 
tion are included in the category of "native born," it is still less possible to 
calculate what the proportion of Negroes would have been had there been 
no immigration of either race to the United States after 1 790. 

In a previous chapter we have discussed the considerable slave import, 
legal up to 1808 and illegal from then until the Civil War. After the War 
immigration of Negroes became inconsequential.* The immigration of 
whites from Europe was much heavier, even in relation to the larger white 
stock, during practically the whole period. b There is no doubt that this 
factor accounts for the great decline in the proportion of Negroes until 
recently. Additions of territory to continental United States have brought 
in a more than proportional share of whites. 

There has been a radical change in these factors, a change which promises 
to stop the downward trend of the proportion of Negroes and probably 
send it slightly upward. There have been no acquisitions of continental 
territory for a long while, and it is not likely that there will be any more. 
Immigration from Europe was largely halted by the First World War, 

'See Chapter 5, Section 2. 

b The immigration of foreign-born whites has meant much not only for its direct addi- 
tion* to the white American population, but also because the foreign-born have had a high 
birth rate. 

* Only the acquisition of Louisiana in 1 803 and of Florida in 1 8 1 9 brought in significant 
numbers of Negroes. 

M7 



i 5 8 

FlCURK I 



An American Dilemma 

Negro Population of the United States: 1790 to 1940 




c 2 - 

L2. 
GL 

a 
a. 
2. 

2. 

2. 

* 

il 
32. 

sa. 

21 

&. 

LZ. 

Li. 

y, 
-fi. 
jl 
.2. 

to 



Percentage of negroes In. 
the Total Population 
of the United states 



HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH 




Percentage Increase of 
the Negro Population 



'h' fTP "up r^j* "^n fT? >7j" hj^ t' 

000000000 




Id M) VO K x S 
OOOO 



Source: United States Census. 

Note: Population of 1870 taken as midpoint between population of t86o and 1880. 



Chapter 7. Population 159 

and the restrictive legislation of the 1920V — not likely to be repealed — 
has continued to hold that immigration low. Economic stagnation during 
the 1930's operated to reduce the immigration below the legal quota, even 
when the latter was temporarily further reduced by Executive Order. 1 
Only the refugees coming after 1933 made the immigration from Europe 
at all significant. It is not likely that immigration from Europe will rise 
after the present War. We can assume that from now on, as during the 
1930's, the immigration from Europe will not greatly exceed the emigra- 
tion to Europe. 

Both white and Negro population groups are, therefore, now changing 
and will continue to change — if our assumption is correct — almost entirely 
in accord with their respective birth and death rates. One important excep- 
tion to this is the continuing immigration of Mexicans and Canadians." 
These groups will continue to provide a small but steady addition to the 
white population. Like immigration, passing may be ignored as relatively 
negligible in the estimation of probable changes in the relative numbers of 
Negroes and whites. 

While there are more statistics on population than in most other fields, 
they are less adequate for many of the problems we are interested in. 
There is continuous registration of births and deaths, compiled annually, 
but the failure to register large numbers of births and deaths makes it 
extremely hazardous to use these statistics. 2 Much more complete is the 
decennial census, but for our purposes this also is inadequate since young 
children are frequently overlooked (in different degree for the different 
regions and races), and since the census asked no direct question on internal 
migration until 1940. 8 

The inadequacies of both vital registration and census enumeration are 
greater for the South than for the North, greater for rural areas than for 
urban, and even in the same areas, greater for Negroes than for whites. 
We are handicapped also by the fact that, at the time of writing (summer, 
1942) the compilation of the 1940 Census is far from complete, and the 
1930 Census is too old to be of much use in showing the present situation. 
For all these reasons it will be somewhat hazardous to present the facts 
about population beyond the crude trends we have already noted. We shall 
present only those facts about which we feel fairly certain, but it should 
be understood that the figures cited are approximations. 

"See Chapter 4, footnote 21. 

'Although there is no provision in law setting quotas on immigrants from other 
American countries, actually there are serious restrictions which keep down this immigration. 
Every prospective immigrant must pass a strict examination before the American consul to 
whom he applies for his permit: he must meet certain standards of physical and mental 
health, literacy, and show the ability to support himself. There is no appeal from the 
decision of the consul. 

' See Chapter 5, Section 7. 



iob 



An American Dilemma 



For our first observation of Negro and white natural increase — that is, 
the balance of births and deaths — we may turn to the net refroduction rate. 
This rate is a combined measure of the birth and death rates adjusted to 
a stable age distribution of the population. It is the number of girls which 
1,000 newborn girls may be expected to bear during their lifetime, assum- 
ing existing rates of fertility and mortality. Estimates of the Bureau of the 
Census, based on a 5 per cent cross-section of the 1940 Census returns, 
indicate a net reproduction of 107 for nonwhitcs and 94 for whites including 
Mexicans (Table i).* For 1930 the comparable rates — calculated from all 
census returns — were 1 10 and 1 1 1, respectively. Despite errors in the data, 
it is possible to derive the following tentative conclusions: ( 1) that Negroes, 



TABLE 1 
Net Reproduction Rails by Color and Urban-Rural Ri-sidfncl, 

>0R THE UNIIfcD blArES, BV RtOlONi. I930 AND I94O 

(1940 data are estimates b.ised on a preliminary tabulation of a 
5 per cent cross-section of the 1940 Census returns.) 







1 


1940 








1930 




Region 






Rural- 


Rnral- 






Bural- 


R11r.1l- 


and Color 


Total 


Urban 


nonfarm 


fann 


Total 


Urbu 


n noufarm 


farm 


All Classes 














United States 


96 


74 


114 


144 


111 


88 


132 


159 


North 


87 


74 


109 


133 


103 


90 


128 


150 


South 


in 


75 


118 


150 


127 


86 


138 


165 


West 


9S 


75 


120 


138 


1 01 


80 


129 


155 


White 














United States 


94 


74 


114 


14°. 


in 


90 


133 


159 


North 


87 


74 


109 


133 


104 


91 


128 


150 


South 


110 


76 


120 


145 


132 


92 


145 


169 


West 


94 


76 


"9 


>34 


99 


79 


128 


'5 1 


Konwhite 


















United States 


107 


74 


114 


160 


no 


7* 


119 


156 


North 


83 


79 


(a) 


(a) 


87 


82 


(a) 


(a) 


South 


i«3 


71 


112 


160 


"5 


71 


116 


153 


West 


119 


M 


(a) 


(a) 


!57 


(a) 


M 


(a) 



Source: ittxieenth Census of the Untied States: 1040. Population. Preliminary Release; Series P-5, No. 13 

(a) Rates not shown for those population groups which, in 1040. had fewer than ^o.ooo females under 
5 years old. 

like whites, are not reproducing themselves so rapidly as they used to, (2) 
that probably their rate is now higher than that of the whites, and (3) 
that this differential is a new phenomenon, at least in so far as it is signifi- 
cant. If such a differential continues into the future and if it is not fully 
compensated for by immigration of whites, the proportion of Negroes in 
the American population may be expected to rise, though slowly. 6 



Chapter 7. Population 161 

While in the country as a whole, around 1930, the net reproduction 
rate for Negroes and for whites was about the same, the Negro rate was 
significantly below the white rate in each region of the country and in rural 
and urban areas taken separately. This situation occurred, of course, because 
Negroes were concentrated in the South and in rural areas, which have 
high rates for both whites and Negroes compared to other areas. In other 
words, it was only because of their unusual geographic distribution that 
Negroes were reproducing themselves as rapidly as whites. During the 
1930's, however, it would seem that a fundamental change took place: 
the white rates had dropped until they were no longer above the Negro 
rates in each region and in rural and urban areas taken separately." If the 
1940 rates for the whole country are "standardized" to show what the 
rates would be if both color groups were distributed by residence areas 
in the same proportion as the total population, the whites rise from 94 to 
97 and the nonwhites drop from 107 to 102. 7 That is, even if differences 
in regional and rural-urban residence are "held constant," Negroes now have 
a higher net reproduction rate than whites. Since the errors in the census 
are greater for Negroes than for whites and, therefore, the discrepancy 
is greater — if anything — than shown by the figures we have presented, we 
feel justified in presenting the following as a fourth conclusion from the 
net reproduction figures: (4) Even within regions and rural-urban areas 
taken separately, Negroes are no longer reproducing themselves at a lower 
rate than whites. In fact, the figures suggest that they are reproducing them- 
selves more — thus reversing the position they held in 1930 and earlier. 

2. Births and Deaths 

To determine the causes of these differentials and trends, we shall first 
have to go to the birth and death rates which compose the net reproduction 
rates. Unfortunately these rates are even more unreliable than the composite 
net reproduction rate. 8 Certain general conclusions are justified, however, 
even if we cannot rely on the exact magnitudes. 

The Negro birth rate, like the white birth rate, has been falling at least 
since 1880 and perhaps longer. 9 And since 1850 it has been consistently 
higher than the white birth rate. These important generalizations about 
the birth rate have held true in recent years: in 1928-1932 the corrected 
gross reproduction rate b was 136 for Negroes — as compared to 122 for 
whites (1930)— and by 1933-1937 the Negro rate had fallen to 130. 10 

"These rates apply in the North only to the urban areas. 

b The gross reproduction rate is a refined birth rate adjusted to a stable age distribution. 
It is the number of girl babies born to the average woman throughout her reproductive 
period. It is computed by applying crude birth rates to a life table population of 1,000 
women and summing the age specific fertility rates thus obtained. The rates for Negroes 
were calculated and corrected for under-registration by Kirk, and the rates for white! 
were calculated by Lotka from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's files. (See 



1 62 An American Dilemma 

While there are proportionately more Negro than white infants born, 
significantly fewer of the Negro infants live. During 1940, 73 out of every 
1,000 live Negro infants were recorded to have died before reaching their 
first birthday, as compared to 43 white babies out of every 1,000 born. 11 If 
the official statistics were more accurate, they would undoubtedly reveal a 
much greater differential in infant mortality rates. While a good many 
more Negro infants die than white infants, in proportion to their total 
numbers, the difference in death rates for children and mature adults is 
apparently even greater. 12 Only at ages above 50 does the Negro death rate 
apparently begin to fall to the level of the white death rate. If a Negro child 
is born alive, 18 it has (in 1930), on the average, a life expectancy of roughly 
48.5 years, while the average white newborn child can expect to reach the 
age of 60.9 years. 14 For a stationary population with a stable age distribu- 
tion, these expectancy figures would correspond to a death rate for Negroes 
of 20.6 per thousand population and for whites of 16.4. The actually 
registered death rates were, in 1930, 16.5 per thousand for Negroes and 10.8 
for whites. 15 The lower actual rates are due not only to under-registration, 
but also to the abnormal age structure: both Negroes and whites have 
a disproportionate number of young adults. 

As we said, the birth rate has been falling for both Negroes and whites. 
The fall in fertility is the major factor behind the secular decline in net 
reproduction for both population groups; the decrease in mortality has not 
been able to effect more than a rather slight checking of this decline. It is 
probable that since 1930 the birth rate for whites has fallen more rapidly 
than the birth rate for Negroes. 18 

The existing data regarding trends in the death rate are so faulty and 
self-contradictory that it is hardly worth while to quote them. The avail- 
able data do not permit us to compare trends in the Negro and white death 
rates. 17 If the death rates have been falling for both groups, it would 
seem that they were falling more rapidly for whites than for Negroes until 
1930. In 1930 the mortality rate for the Negro population was higher 
than the rate for the white population thirty years previously, in 1900. 18 
It is likely that since 1930 the death rate has fallen more rapidly for 
Negroes than for whites. 19 

The decline in the birth rate for both whites and Negroes has been chang- 
ing the age structure of the populations and this, in turn, is haying certain 
effects on both birth and death rates. Even if the age specific birth rates 
(that is, the birth rate for each age group of women) should remain constant, 
the crude birth rate (that is, the birth rate for the entire population) will 
ultimately drop as the population grows older. The crude birth rate is now 

Dudley Kuk r ? *The Fertility of the Negroes," unpublished manuscript prepared for this 
study XlJN^lvP* *+•) " ot ""I? *** the™ erro ™ due to under-registration in these calcula- 
tions, but there are also errors due to misreporting of age by women. 



Chapter 7. Population 163 

abnormally high, since there is an abnormally large number of persons in 
the child-bearing age groups (this is so because they were born in a period 
with higher fertility). This is slightly more true of Negroes than of whites, 
since most of the foreign-born are white, and they are now mostly in the 
older age groups. In 1940, 41. 1 per cent of the nonwhite females, as com- 
pared to 39.2 per cent of the white females, were between the ages of 20 
and 45. 20 The effect on the white birth rate will come sooner, both because 
Negroes have had a somewhat higher birth rate and because they, as a 
result of higher mortality and fewer foreign-born, have, and probably will 
continue to have, a relatively smaller proportion of persons in ages above 
the fertile age groups. Likewise, even though the death rate declines some- 
what for each age group of both white and Negro populations, the crude 
death rate will tend to increase as the proportion of persons in high age 
groups increases. And for the same reasons, the rise in the death rate will 
come sooner for whites than for Negroes. 

Considering the differences in age structure alone, which are causing the 
decline in the crude birth rate and the rise in the crude rate to come 
sooner for whites than for Negroes, we have another reason why — for a 
while at least — the proportion of Negroes in the total population will 
increase. It must be remembered, however, that future changes in fertility 
and mortality will change the entire pattern. Of particular interest for our 
present problem would be the effects of a large-scale disease prevention 
campaign. Since Negro death rates are now considerably higher than white 
death rates, it is more possible to bring them down. Any impartial efforts 
to reduce sickness and death in the nation will have much more effect on 
Negroes than on whites simply because Negroes have much more pre- 
ventable and curable disease to begin with." We have observed that a more 
rapid fall of Negro mortality has probably already occurred during the 
'thirties. 

Migration will continue to be a great importance for future trends 
in Negro birth and death rates. Migration from rural to urban areas 
universally reduces the birth rate. 21 It has been related to the main set of 
causal factors behind the reduction of both white and Negro fertility over 
the last 70 years. In recent decades the effects have probably been more 
pronounced for the Negroes than for the whites, since a larger proportion 
of Negroes have left the farms for the cities, and since the rural South 
and the urban North represent more the extremes of country and city 
than the places whites predominantly come from and go to. 22 Even within 
the South the places to which Negroes have been migrating— the larger 
cities and the rural areas of the Mississippi Valley 23 — are those of lowest 
birth rate. While whites also are moving to cities and to rural areas in the 
western part of the South, their birth rates are apparently not lowered so 

* See Section 5 of thii chapter. 



164 An American Dilemma 

much as those of Negroes. 3 * In the migration to dries the Negro birth rate 
is affected by two special factors: (i) When they migrate to dries, Negro 
women seek jobs more than white women do, and all urban occupations, 
especially domestic service, in which Negroes are concentrated, make 
child-bearing disadvantageous. 25 (2) When Negroes have migrated to 
dries, the men have gone more to some cities and the women more to 
other cities than in the case of the whites. This is because Negro women 
seek jobs in dries more than do white women, and they have gone mainly to 
commercial cities where there is a greater demand for domestic servants. 
Negro men, on the other hand, find more opportunities in industrial dries 
than the Negro women do. The result is that migration involves a greater 
unbalancing of the sex ratio for Negroes than for whites, and consequently 
the birth rate is reduced more. 

Also, migration has probably meant a somewhat reduced death rate for 
the Negroes, 20 but the dedine in death rate has not balanced the dedine 
in birth rate. In 1940, the nonwhite net reproduction rate for rural-farm 
areas was 154, as compared to 76 for urban areas; for whites the compara- 
ble figures were 132 and 76, respectively. 27 

The future of Negro migration is, of course, uncertain. In following 
chapters we shall find that there are reasons to anticipate that Negroes, more 
than whites, will be pushed from the Southern land and also that they, 
more than whites, will attempt to come North. If we consider migration 
alone, therefore, the effects of urbanization on fertility seem likely to con- 
tinue to be somewhat greater for Negroes than for whites. This is uncertain, 
however, as the fertility of urban whites now has dropped sharply and may 
continue to fall more rapidly than Negro fertility. The sex ratio for Negroes 
has been tending to even out and will continue to do so. Negroes are 
becoming more accustomed to the strains of city life and its effects on their 
health may not be so great as has been the case in the last two decades. The 
death rate of Negroes in Northern cities might also decrease considerably 
if better health facilities are made available to them and taken advantage 
of by them. For all these reasons, the net reproduction rate might reach 
a lower limit which would be higher than the white rate. 

Other differentials between various dasses and groups of Negroes are 
important in estimating trends in Negro population. First, there is the 
income differential. Among Negroes, as among whites, the larger the 
income, the lower the birth rate, the lower the death rate, and the lower 
the net reproduction rate. 28 These relations are characteristic only during 
the period before the practice of birth control is taken up by the lower 
sodo-ecpODmic groups. But for America as a whole, and particularly for 
t^jftfsegfiy people, this phase is likely to last for many more decades. What 
significance these differentials will have for the future of the Negro popula- 
tion it is difficult to say. As we do not foresee any great rise of economic 



Chapter 7. Population 165 

status for the masses of Negroes in the immediate future, and not even 
a great increase in the small upper and middle strata,' it is not likely that 
the factor of a rising standard of living will per se be of great importance 
for either fertility or mortality. 

The future development of welfare policy might become much more 
important, but its effect would be different from a direct rise in income. 
If the social security system is extended and if allowances are going to be 
given to children, and if other welfare policies — in regard to public housing, 
nutrition, and health — are developed and directed more upon the welfare 
of children, this might stop the decline in fertility, decrease mortality and 
raise net reproduction. These effects would be greater for poor people 
than for the well-to-do people, and therefore would be greater for Negroes 
than for whites — since Negroes are more concentrated in the lower income 
strata. If there is an increased spread of information on birth control, there 
will be a decrease in fertility, mortality and net reproduction. 

Another possible influence on the future of Negro population in the 
United States is immigration. In the 1940 Census, there were enumerated 
only 84,000 foreign-born Negroes in the entire country. 20 In 1900, there 
were 41,000 foreign-born Negroes in the country. The total Negro popula- 
tion in that year was 8,833,994. 30 The bulk of the foreign-born Negroes 
came from the West Indies. Lack of opportunities for Negroes in the 
United States makes it improbable that the rate of Negro immigration 
will become significant, but there is always a possibility. Despite the fact 
that the majority of these immigrant Negroes live in New York City, 
and most of the remainder live in other cities, they seem to have a high 
fertility. 31 

3. Summary 

Popular theories on the growth of the Negro population in America 
have been diverse. At times it has been claimed that Negroes "breed like 
rabbits," and that they will ultimately crowd out the whites if they are not 
deported or their procreation restricted. At other times it has been pro- 
nounced that they are a "dying race," bound to lose out in the "struggle 
for survival." Statistics — both of the comprehensive kind in the United 
States Census and the limited kind gathered in sample surveys — have been 
used to bolster both arguments. 32 

With the very insufficient and inadequate measures of the factors of 
change affecting the reproduction of the Negro population in America, it 
is difficult to piece together a satisfactory prediction of the future course 
of the total number and the proportion of Negroes in the United States. 
It can be stated confidently, though, that both these extremes of popular 

"See Part IV. 



i66 An American Dilemma 

ideas are wrong. In their reproduction American Negroes are like American 
whites and show the same sort of differentials by regions and groufs. 

From 1790 to 1930 the proportion of Negroes in America decreased to 
about a half of what it had been in the beginning of this period (Figure 
1). But this was due, not to any peculiarities in reproduction, but to the 
overweight of white immigration. The situation began to change during the 
First World War and the 'twenties: the immigration of whites from 
Europe fell until it was no longer significant. If there is no substantial 
change in foreign immigration again, and if conditions affecting births and 
deaths of both whites and Negroes remain about the same as they are now, 
or change so that the effect on whites is similar to the effect on Negroes, it 
is probable that the proportion of Negroes in the total population will rise 
slowly. There was a rise of one-tenth of 1 per cent of the proportion of 
Negroes in the total population during the 'thirties. This increase may con- 
tinue and even become somewhat more marked, but not much. The main 
reason for this is that Negroes are concentrated in the rural South where the 
birth rate is generally very high. 

If Negroes continue to migrate to Southern and Northern cities, the rate 
of Negro reproduction will be lowered in relation to the white rate — 
although possibly not so much as in the past. If there were an economic 
improvement among Negroes, which does not seem immediately likely, 
it would seem probable that this would also tend to decrease fertility more 
than mortality. The development of a social welfare policy, which seems 
much more probable, would in all likelihood brake the fall in fertility as 
well as decrease mortality. A mitigation of discrimination in the granting 
of medical and other health advantages to Negroes, particularly if con- 
comitant with a general improvement of these advantages for all poor 
people, would have profound effects in reducing the large Negro death 
rate and in raising Negro reproduction. The spread of birth control among 
Negroes will decrease the rate of reproduction. Immigration of foreign-born 
Negroes — which does not promise to become important — would increase 
the Negro population, not only because it adds directly to their numbers, 
but also because these immigrants seem to have a high fertility. 

Of course, changes affecting the Negro population will not go on in 
vacuo, and there will be similar changes in the white population — all of 
which will affect the future proportion of Negroes in the total population 
of the United States. A dominating factor will be the decline in fertility in 
both population groups. Comparisons with other countries, as well as 
between dtfterent groups in America, make it seem highly probable that 
this decKife will continue. But for several reasons which we have noted, 
faifffititly that, for a short time at least, the decline in the white birth rate 
wM fee more rapid than the decline in the Negro birth rate. 



Chapter 7. Population 167 

4. Ends and Means of Population Policy* 

As is apparent from what we have said, several of the factors of change 
are dependent upon policy, and we shall now turn to programs instead of 
prognoses. Our discussion of population policy will have to be most abstract 
and, in part, conjectural. For not only are the basic data poor, but there 
has been less thinking in America devoted to the broad problem of a 
rational population policy than to other spheres of social engineering. 

One reason for the inarticulateness and inadequacy of American discus- 
sion of population policy is the heterogeneity of America's population, and 
the fact that some of its component groups are commonly considered to be 
inferior. This complicates tremendously the formulation of a rational and 
unified population policy. It creates conflicts of valuations which make it 
uncomfortable to discuss the problem. The strength of church and religion 
in America presents another inhibition. Specifically, the fundamentalists 
Protestant religion in some of the regions where fertility is highest in the 
South and the Catholic Church in the big Northern cities are against discus- 
sions of population policy. 33 

We shall avoid the unsettled problem of an American population policy 
at large and restrict our treatment to the Negro angle of it. In stating our 
value fremises a distinction must be made between ends and means. 3 * 
We shall find that for the white people the desired quantitative goal con- 
flicts sharply with their valuation of the means of attaining that goal. For 
Negroes no such conflict is present. 

If we forget about the means, for the moment, and consider only the 
quantitative goal for Negro population policy, there is no doubt that the 
overwhelming majority of white Americans desire that there be as jew 
Negroes as possible in America. If the Negroes could be eliminated from 
America or greatly decreased in numbers, this would meet the whites' 
approval — provided that it could be accomplished by means which are also 
approved. Correspondingly, an increase of the proportion of Negroes in the 
American population is commonly looked upon as undesirable. These 
opinions are seldom expressed publicly. As the opinions, for reasons which 
we shall develop, are not practicable either, they are not much in the fore- 
ground of public attention. But as general valuations they are nearly always 
present. Commonly it is considered a great misfortune for America that 
Negro slaves were ever imported. The presence of Negroes in America 
today is usually considered as a "plight" of the nation, and particularly of 
the South. It should be noted that the general valuation of the desirability 

"This section will be concerned with policy only as it deals with the total number of 
Negroes in the United States. Population policy as it deals with the distribution of Negroes 
within the United States will be discussed in the next chapter. Population policy as it deals 
with the migration of the Negro people will be discussed in Chapter 17, Section 3. 



r68 An American Dilemma 

of a decrease of the Negro population is not necessarily hostile to the Negro 
people. It is shared even by enlightened white Americans who do not 
hold the common belief that Negroes are inferior as a race. Usually it is 
pointed out- that Negroes fare better and meet less prejudice when they are 
few in number. 

There is an important qualification to be made to these statements. As 
we have found at many points in this study, people are not always con- 
sistent in their valuations. Many white Southerners live by exploiting 
Negroes, and many fortunes have been built up by cheating Negroes; many 
white Southerners realize their economic dependence on the Negro and 
would not like to lose him. Many white Southerners have opposed all 
"back-to-Africa" or "forty-ninth State" movements, which would eliminate 
Negroes from their midst. When Negroes began to migrate northward in 
great numbers during the First World War, many white Southerners made 
strenuous efforts to stop them: propaganda was distributed; threats were 
made; Negro leaders were bribed; favors were bestowed; Northern labor 
agents were prohibited, fined or beaten up. The dominant upper and middle 
classes of whites in the South realize, for the most part, that they would 
stand to lose economically if the Negro were to disappear. With the 
decline of the cotton economy, which we shall analyze in Chapters 1 1 and 
12, the valuation is not so strong now asini9i7-i9i8. Too, the valuation 
is not held by most Northerners or by Southern poor whites. And this 
valuation in the economic sphere is not necessarily tied to the Negro. If 
poor whites could be exploited with the same facility, the dominant white 
Southerners would be glad to be rid of the Negro. The valuation in the 
socio-political sphere, however, « tied to the Negro: the Negro is a 
problem and practically all Southerners (as practically all Northerners) 
would like to get rid of him. More important from a practical and polit- 
ical standpoint is that the valuation in the economic sphere is only a short- 
time attitude. Southerners who gain economically from the presence of 
the Negro are concerned only that the Negro should not disappear during 
their lifetime or, at most, their children's lifetime. When they think in 
terms of a long span of future generations, the valuation that the Negro 
should be eliminated is almost completely dominant. And as we shall 
presently see, all white Americans agree that, if the Negro is to be elimi- 
nated, he must be eliminated slowly so as not to hurt any living individual 
Negroes. Therefore, the dominant American valuation is that the Negro 
should be eliminated from the American scene, but slowly. 

The Negroes cannot be expected to have the same view on the quanti- 
tative goal <>f Negro population. Of course Negroes are familiar with the 
general fact that prejudice against them is in part a function of their num- 
ber. But I have never met a Negro who drew the conclusion from this that 
a decrease of the American Negro population would be advantageous. 



Chapter 7. Population 169 

Rather it is sometimes contended that the Negro's power would increase 
with his numbers, and that the most virile people is the one that survives 
in the universal struggle. With the increase in "race pride" and "race con- 
sciousness," which is a consequence of the rising tide of the Negro protest,* 
almost every Negro, who is brought to think about the problem, wants the 
Negro population to be as large as ■possible. This is sometimes even 
expressed in writing. W. Montague Cobb, for instance, opens his summary 
"prescription" for the Negro with the following precepts: 

1. He should maintain his high birth rate, observing the conditions of life necessary 
to this end. This alone has made him able to increase, in spite of decimating 
mortality and hardships. If the tide should turn against him later, strength will be 
better than weakness in numbers. 

2. He should make a fetish of health. Progressive eradication of tuberculosis, 
venereal disease, pneumonia, and maternal and infant mortality, will give him 
sounder and more abundant parental stock and offspring. 

3. He should cultivate excellence in sports. This spreads healthful habits. 85 

While whites and Negroes have widely divergent valuations in regard to 
the desirable quantity of the American Negro population, they agree on 
the qualitative goal. It is implicit in the American Creed, with its stress on 
the value and dignity of the individual human being, that both white and 
Negro Americans in "principle -find it desirable to raise the quality of the 
Negro people Du Bois, for example, criticized those Negroes who 

... arc quite led away by the fallacy of numbers. They want the black race to 
survive. They arc cheered by a census return of increasing numbers and a high rate 
of increase. They must learn that among human races and groups, as among vegetables, 
quality and not mere quantity really counts. 1 " 1 

Since the biological principles of eugenics cannot be applied until environ- 
mental conditions are more equalized, 37 and since the American Creed places 
inhibitions in the way of applying eugenics, to improve the quality of the 
Negro people means primarily to improve their environmental conditions. 
It is true that the average white American does not want to sacrifice much 
himself in order to improve the living conditions of Negroes. This is the 
explanation of discrimination in public service generally. But on this point 
the American Creed is quite clear and explicit, and we can proceed safely on 
the value premise that the medical and health facilities and, indeed, all 
public measures in the field of education, sanitation, housing, nutrition, 
hospitalization and so forth, to improve the quality of the population and to 
advance individuals and groups physically, mentally, or morally, should 
be made just as available for Negroes as for whites in similar circumstances 
and with similar needs. This value premise has, in fact, sanction in the 
Constitution of the United States. 

* See Chapter 35. 



170 An American Dilemma 

In our further discussion of the means in Negro population policy we 
might start out from the desire of the politically dominant white popula- 
tion to get rid of the Negroes. This is a goal difficult to reach by approved 
means, and the desire has never been translated into action directly, and 
probably never will be. All the most obvious means go strongly against the 
American Creed. The Negroes cannot be killed off. Compulsory deporta- 
tion would infringe upon personal liberty in such a radical fashion that it 
is excluded. Voluntary exportation of Negroes could not be carried on 
extensively because of unwillingness on the part of recipient nations as well 
as on the part of the American Negroes themselves, who usually do not 
want to leave the country but prefer to stay and fight it out here." Neither 
is it possible to effectuate the goal by keeping up the Negro death rate. 
A high death rate is an unhumanitarian and undemocratic way to restrict the 
Negro population and, in addition, expensive to society and dangerous to 
the white population. The only possible way of decreasing Negro popula- 
tion is by means of controlling fertility. But as we shall find, even birth 
control — for Negroes as well as for whites — will, in practice, have to be 
considered primarily as a means to other ends than that of decreasing the 
Negro population. 

In the final analysis all these theoretically possible policies to effectuate 
the white desire to decrease the Negro population are blocked by the 
American Creed (except birth control which, however, is largely attached 
to other ends). This is why the desire is never publicly expressed. The 
influence of the American Creed goes even further. Should America in 
the future, when the net reproduction of the nation has decreased still 
further, embark upon a policy to stimulate the bearing and rearing of 
children, the democratic Creed of this country will come to prescribe that 
aids to families be equally available to Negroes and other unpopular 
groups, "independent of creed, color or race." 

In sum, if America does not turn fascist, the numerically and politically 
dominant white population will be driven by its national ethos to abstain 
from taking any practical measures to realize its desire to decrease the 
Negro population. Instead, it will be compelled to extend to the Negroes 
the population measures taken primarily to build up the white population. 
This is, of course, exactly what the Negroes want, and a unity of purpose 
becomes established on the basis of the American Creed. 

Meanwhile, the basic conflict of valuations on the part of the dominant 
whites is, as we pointed out, one of the explanations why there is so little 
discussion §£ broad population policy in America. It helps, further, to 
explain mflch of the discrimination and indifference about Negro welfare 
and J$te::great difficulty in stamping it out. On the other hand, it should, 
at letffc,/give an extra impetus to make effective birth control available 

'See, however, Chapter 38, Section 11. 



Chapter 7/ Population 171 

to Negroes. We can see signs of this already in several of the Southern 
states. 

5. Controlling the Death Rate 

Since there is no evidence at present that certain diseases are genetically 
more characteristic or less characteristic of Negroes than of whites — 
although it is possible that slight differences in one direction or the other 
may some day be revealed — it is not necessary to single out Negroes for 
special attention in any efforts to cure or prevent disease. The application 
of the equalitarian principles of "need" in the cure of disease and ill 
health and of "equality of opportunity" in their prevention — which are 
our value premises in this section — will suffice to eliminate any special 
Negro disabilities. 

If disease prevention work is to be effective, it must be planned on a 
national basis without regard to the color of the inhabitants. In the South 
as well as in the North there is an increasing popular recognition among 
whites that "diseases cannot be segregated," and that high rates of death, 
sickness, and poor health among Negroes carry tremendous social costs, 
directly and indirectly, even if they cannot be calculated accurately in dollars 
and cents. 

There are special social costs connected with infant mortality. There 
are costs to society as well as to the parents of bearing and raising a child 
if it dies before it contributes to the world by its labor and other personal 
qualities. From practically any point of view, it would be better not to have 
certain children born at all rather than to have them die before completing 
a normal lifetime. And if healthy children are born, it is in the interest of 
everyone to see that they are given the opportunity to remain healthy. 

These considerations apply to both Negroes and whites. But they apply 
with greater forcefulness to Negroes since differential death rates reveal 
that equalization of health conditions, even without advance in medical 
knowledge or practice, would pull the Negro death rate down sharply. To 
give Negroes adequate medical facilities fits in both with the equalitarian 
Creed and with the interests of whites. The observer finds in the South that 
the propaganda by experts and humanitarians regularly and bluntly makes 
this appeal to "enlightened self-interest." 

Medical knowledge has advanced beyond medical practice, and medical 
practice has advanced far beyond most people's opportunity to take advan- 
tage of it. A reduction in these lags would have tremendous consequences 
for the well-being and happiness of every person in the nation. Of special 
significance to the Negroes is the lag of opportunity for some people to 
obtain the advantages of medical practices available to other people. Area 
for area, class for class, Negroes cannot get the same advantages in the 

* See Chapter 6» Section *. 



172 An American- Dilemma 

way of prevention and cure of disease that the whites can. There is dis- 
crimination against the Negro in the availability to him of medical facilities. 
It is hard to separate the effects of discrimination from those of con- 
centration of Negroes in areas where medical facilities are not easily avail- 
able and in those income brackets which do not permit the purchase of 
medical facilities in the competitive market. Discrimination increases Negro 
sickness and death both directly and indirectly and manifests itself both 
consciously and unconsciously. Discrimination is involved when hospitals 
will not take in Negro patients; or when — if they do permit Negro patients 
— they restrict their numbers, give them the poorest quarters, and refuse 
to hire Negro doctors and nurses to attend them." The number of hospital 
beds recently available to Negroes in the South is not known except in 
Mississippi (1938) 38 where there were 0.7 beds per 1,000 Negroes as com- 
pared to 2.4 per 1,000 whites, and in the Carolinas (1938) 88 where there 
were 1,2 beds per 1,000 Negroes as compared to 2.1 per 1,000 whites. In 
1928 there was available in the United States one hospital bed for each 139 
of the white population, but only one hospital bed for each 1,941 of the 
colored population. This means that at that time each white inhabitant of 
the United States had 14 times as good a chance for proper hospital care 
as had the colored citizen. 40 The facilities for Negroes are generally of a 
much poorer quality than for whites. In 1937 only about 35 per cent of 
Southern Negro babies were delivered by a physician, as compared to 90 
per cent of Southern white babies and 98 per cent of Northern white and 
Negro babies. 41 In the whole United States in 1930 there were only about 
3,805 Negro doctors, 5,728 Negro nurses, and 1,773 Negro dentists, and a 
disproportionate number of these were employed in the North.* 2 It is 
true, of course, that Negroes cannot afford doctors and hospitals to the 
same extent as whites, but that does not eliminate the fact of discrimination. 
Discrimination manifesting itself against the Negro's health is indirect 
as well as direct, and fits into the pattern of the vicious circle. Inadequate 
education for Negroes, partly due to economic inability to keep young 
people in schools and partly due to inferior schools for Negroes in the 
South, not only prevents the training of Negro medical experts, but also 
keeps knowledge about sanitation and health in the general population at 
an extremely low level. Magical and superstitious practices continue in an 
unenlightened Negro population, 43 and customary patterns of behavior 
dangerous to health are brought from the South to the North. Ill health 
reduces the chances of economic advancement, which in turn operates to 



;"■» summary of the facts oh health facilities and medical care for Negroes, see 
'tpNtylsi F. Dora, 'The Health of the Negro," unpublished manuscript prepared for this 
•tMgr (1940), pp. 94a-! 14b and 131-208. Efforts by the government and private organiza- 
tions to improve health conditions among Negroes will be taken up in Chapter 1 5, Section 4. 



Chapter 7. Population 



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174 An American Dilemma 

reduce the chances of getting adequate medical facilities or the knowledge 
necessary for personal health care. 

Any intelligent efforts to reduce Negro morbidity and mortality will 
result in striking success. This we may deduce from a knowledge of the 
vicious circle mechanism and from a knowledge of existing Negro-white 
differentials. Perhaps the greatest need of the Negroes, in the way of 
reducing sickness and death, is for a dissemination of knowledge on how to 
take care of the body in both its normal and its pathological state. Other 
needs are indicated by the diseases for which the Negro rate is strikingly 
higher than the white rate (Figure 2).* These include pellagra (a result 
of dietary deficiency), syphilis (a function of inadequate information, on 
the one hand, and social disorganization, on the other), homicide (partly 
a result of cultural isolation of a subordinated people and lack of police 
protection in Negro communities), b pneumonia and influenza (a function 
of inadequate care), and tuberculosis (a result, largely, of inadequate sanita- 
tion and poor diet). These diseases not only kill, but also reduce the 
efficiency of Negroes to a much greater extent than that of whites. Pellagra, 
syphilis, and tuberculosis, at least, can easily be recognized as public prob- 
lems — the eradication of which is necessary to the health and efficiency of 
the entire nation. 

The infant mortality rate as registered is 69 per cent higher among 
Negroes than among whites ( 1940) ; the actual difference is probably even 
greater. 44 The discrepancy in maternal mortality rates between the two 
races is much higher — official figures indicate that the rate for Negro mothers 
is two and one-half times as high as the rate for white mothers (i94o).* s 
Both infant mortality and maternal mortality among the Negroes have been 
declining in the last decade. But the fact that they are still much higher 
for Negroes indicates that much can yet be done to reduce these types of 
death among Negroes. 

Ill health reduces the birth rate in ways other than killing off mothers in 
their child-bearing period. In the first place, it increases sterility among 
men and women. That there is more sterility among Negroes than among 
whites is shown by the fact that there are more childless women, both 
married and unmarried, among Negroes and that the higher Negro birth 
rate is due to a higher average number of children per mother. 46 This 
sterility is not innate, as Pearl 47 has demonstrated, but is caused by general 

* We use the data on causes of death to get an index of Negro-white differentials in 
disease. Only the causes of death which have a marked differential effect on Negroes and 
whites are mentioned here. Practically all causes have some differential effects in favor of 
the whites. The only possible exceptions — which seem to affect whites more than Negroes — 
are scarlet fever, cancer, diabetes, and perhaps a few of the minor rich man's diseases such 
as gout, i 

*&*:&«» V and IX. 

* See Cfcapter 6, Section a. 



Chapter 7. Population 175 

diseases, venereal diseases, induced abortion and organic deficiencies. All 
these things may be reduced by means available to modern science or by 
more general diffusion of a few simple items of information. The same 
causes keep the Negro stillbirth rate high, and so lower the birth rate. In 
1940, the reported Negro stillbirth rate was 58.1 per 1,000 live births as 
compared to 27.6 for whites. 48 If the unreported stillbirths and spontaneous 
abortions were added to this, the discrepancy would, no doubt, be much 
greater. 

All these types of death rates have apparently been falling recently, for 
Negroes as well as for whites. It is useless to cite statistics because the 
reporting of deaths has progressively improved and, therefore, no adequate 
comparison can be made between two periods.* But the direct and indirect 
evidence available shows a decline in the death rates. 49 The greatest prog- 
ress seems to be in reducing deaths among Negroes due to tuberculosis, 
syphilis, diphtheria, whooping cough, diarrhea, and enteritis. But the 
Negro rates are still much higher than the white rates, and there is much 
that can be done for both Negroes and whites. 

In Chapter 15, Section 4, we shall comment somewhat more in detail 
both upon what is being done in the way of public policy to prevent and cure 
disease and upon the actual discrimination against the Negroes which 
up to now has rendered the public measures less effective for them. We 
can conclude from known facts and the stated value premises that what is 
needed in the way of special attention to Negroes is constant vigilance 
against popular and official prejudice in the application of a general medical 
and health program. In view of the racial attitudes prevalent in the South, 
and in view of the generally greater needs and smaller resources of the 
South, it is almost necessary that national organizations, and specifically the 
federal government, take a firm lead in this work. A national policy, work- 
ing toward an improvement of health and a decline in disease, will increase 
the happiness and efficiency, not only of those directly served, but also of 
the general population. It will also, if carried out with intelligence and 
fairness, be a major example of the democratic process. 

6. The Case for Controlling the Negro Birth Rate 

Aside from any desire on the part of white people to check the growth 
of the Negro population, there are in the South a great number of Negroes 
— as of whites — who are so destitute that from a general social point of view 
it would be highly desirable that they did not procreate. The same is true, 
though to a much lesser degree, about the North. Many of these people are 

'It is not reasonable to compare Negro death rates even in those Northern states that 
have had adequate registration for a long while, since in these states the Negro population 
has changed drastically due to migration from the South. For the available data, however, 
«e Section a of this chapter. 



176 An American Dilemma 

so ignorant and so poor that they are not desirable parents and cannot offer 
their children a reasonably good home. The chances of their children dying 
at any early age are much greater than those of other children. No social 
policy, however radically framed, would be able to lift the standards of these 
people immediately. The most direct way of meeting the problem, not tak- 
ing account of the value premises in the American Creed, would be to 
sterilize them. The fact that most whites would want to decrease the Negro 
population — particularly the lower class Negroes — would strengthen the 
argument for sterilization of destitute Negroes. 

We find, however, that such proposals, if they are made at all, are 
almost as repugnant to the average white American in the South and the 
North as to the Negro. In general he is not inclined to consider steriliza- 
tion as a means of birth control except to prevent the reproduction of the 
feeble-minded, the insane, and the severely malformed when a hereditary 
causation can be shown. 50 Outside of those rare cases he is against steriliza- 
tion even if entirely voluntary. 

For this he gives not only the reason that in many regions of the South 
the political and judicial system is such that, for Negroes and perhaps other 
poor people, a system of "voluntary" sterilization might in practice turn 
out to be compulsory. His resistance goes deeper. He reacts against the 
idea that any individual, for reasons which have no biological but only 
social causes, should undergo an unnatural restriction of his procreative 
possibilities. Outside the narrow field of negative eugenics, sterilization is, 
therefore, excluded as a means of controlling fertility. Except for individual 
cases in which life or health is threatened by child-bearing, the average 
American takes a similar attitude toward induced abortion. In his opinion, 
life should not be extinguished. Abortion, further, is not entirely free from 
health risks." 

The type of birth control which we shall have to discuss as a means of 
population policy is thus for all practical purposes restricted to contracep- 
tion. As we have already seen, the whites' desire to decrease the Negro 
population becomes, even in regard to birth control, entirely overshadowed 
by quite other valuations centered on the health and happiness of the 
individual parents and children, which are all backed by the American 
Creed and shared by the Negroes. The full possibilities of these latter 
valuations in permitting a birth control policy in America have not yet been 
realized. Under their sanction birth control facilities could be extended 
relatively more to Negroes than to whites, since Negroes are more con- 
centratetj in the lower income and education classes and since they now know 
less abctttt modern techniques of birth control. On this score there would 
probablyv be no conflict of policy between Negroes and whites. 

*The prevalence of this political attitude does not prevent individuals from resorting 
to abortion when they want to interrupt undetired pregnancies. 



Chapter 7. Population 177 

Without going into the general reasons for spreading birth control in 
any population, 51 a few remarks on the special reasons for Negroes are in 
point. One of the most obvious misfortunes which a reduced birth rate 
could relieve is the poverty of the Negro masses. This is especially true as 
new legislation, urbanization, and technological advance operate to diminish 
child labor. It is particularly strong as long as the state shares only slightly 
in paying for the investment in a new generation and leaves the rising 
costs of bearing and rearing children almost entirely to the individual 
families. Since Negro women are employed to a greater extent than white 
women, the periods of pregnancy, delivery, and dependency are a relatively 
greater economic burden to Negro families. If pregnancies occur too fre- 
quently, the mother's health is endangered. To poor Negro mothers in 
communities which do not provide proper natal and pre-natal care for 
Negroes, any pregnancy is a health risk. 

Besides poverty, there are other conditions among Negroes which moti- 
vate birth control. One is the high disease rate. In so far as diseases of parents 
are transmitted to their children, killing or permanently maiming them, 
such parents ought to be encouraged not to have children. The special refer- 
ence here, of course, is to the venereal diseases which afflict Negroes to a 
much greater extent than whites. 02 Poindexter 58 estimates that of the con- 
ceptions of untreated syphilitic women, about 30 per cent die in utero t 40 
per cent die within the first two years of life, and the remaining 30 per cent, 
while they live past the age of two, usually have some permanent defect. 
There can be no excuse for having children under such circumstances, and 
the provision of contraceptive information and devices would be to every- 
one's advantage. There are in the United States over 2,500 clinics 6 * the 
function of which is to cure cases of venereal disease. Since a good proportion 
of the cost of these clinics is borne by the federal government, 55 they are 
roughly distributed in accordance with need. Thus the South, with only 31 
per cent of the total population but 79 per cent of the Negro population, 
had 61 per cent of these clinics in 1940. 50 In connection with the work of 
these clinics there is much publicity on the prevention and cure of venereal 
disease. It would be a simple matter, and one much in accord with the 
purpose of this work, for the clinics to provide, and give information about, 
contraceptives to those who have the diseases which they are combating. 
The funds for these activities need to be increased, and clinics set up where 
none are now available. A case could also be made for extending the scope 
of the circumstances under which physicians may legally perform thera- 
peutic abortions. 57 

A third special problem in connection with the formation of a policy 
toward Negro fertility is suggested by the extremely high illegitimacy rate 
among Negroes.* Reported illegitimate births constituted 16.2 per cent of 

* The cause* of this high birth rate to unmarried mothers will be considered ia Chapter 
43> Section a. 



178 Am American Dilemma 

all reported births among nonwhites in 1936, and 2.0 per cent among 
whites. The illegitimate child is under many handicaps and seldom has the 
opportunity to develop into a desirable citizen. 68 Even if he has a good 
mother, she cannot give him the proper care since she must usually earn 
her own living and cannot afford to place him under proper supervision. 
The absence of a father is detrimental to the development of a child's 
personality, as is the mockery from the outside world which the illegiti- 
mate child is sometimes forced to experience.* Too, the unwed mother tends 
— although there are many exceptions — to have looser morals and lower 
standards, and in this respect does not provide the proper milieu for her 
child. It would be better both for society in general and for the mother if 
she had no child. 

In all these respects the extra strength of the reasons for birth control 
among Negroes is due only to the fact that, as a group, they are more 
touched by poverty, disease, and family disorganization than is common 
among the whites in America. If caste with all its consequences were to 
disappear, there would, from these viewpoints, be no more need for birth 
control among Negroes than among whites. But the general reasons for 
family limitation would remain, and they would have a strength depending 
upon the extent to which society was reformed to become a more favor- 
able environment for families with children. 69 Until these reforms are 
carried out, and as long as the burden of caste is laid upon American 
Negroes, even an extreme birth control program is warranted by reasons 
of individual and social welfare. 

7. Birth Control Facilities for Negroes 

The birth control movement in America was one which had the support 
of liberals but met the fiercest opposition of the Catholic Church and other 
organized groups with conservative leanings. It also had to deal with the 
inertia and puritanical morality of the masses. 00 Only in the last fifteen 
years has it become possible to discuss the subject publicly without being 
criticized or condemned as immoral. Only in the last five years has the 
legal prohibition against dissemination of information about birth control 
let up significantly, and there are still all sorts of legal obstacles to the 
movement. 61 

In the last decade some significant changes have occurred. Public opinion, 
as measured by polls, is increasingly in favor of birth control. National 
magazines have had frank articles on it. The number of contraceptive clinics 
rose from 34 m 1930 to 803 in 1942. 62 In three states— North Carolina, 
South Carolina, and Alabama— £>#£/«: health authorities have taken the 
lead Mr bringing birth control clinics to rural areas, where they are most 

* There!* much less social derogation of the illegitimate child among Negroes than among 
whites. See Chapter 43, Section *. 



Chapter 7. Population 179 

needed. Several other Southern states are on the verge of following the 
example of these three. In 1937 the conservative American Medical Associa- 
tion accepted birth control as an "integral part of medical practice and 
education." These rapid changes are partly the result of the general trend 
toward social amelioration and secularization. They are also the result of 
the excellent propaganda and organizational work under the movement 
now known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The lead- 
ing spirit in the movement, since 19 16, has been Mrs. Margaret Sanger. 

While the birth control movement is generally considered to be a liberal 
movement, and the South is generally the least hospitable section of the 
country to liberal movements, the South now leads other sections of the 
country in accepting birth control. 63 The relative absence of Roman' 
Catholics in the South, the great attention recently of the birth control 
organizations to the South, and the greater need of the South are important 
reasons for this. But it is reasonable to assume that the large number of 
undesired Negroes in the rural districts also has something to do with the 
lack of opposition on the part of the white South." 

There is some variation in the technical organization of the programs 
in the three Southern states which now have public birth control clinics, 
but there is enough in common to describe a general pattern. 64 These 
clinics were started by the action of the chief health officer in each state; 
he sent letters to each of the local health officers to ask them if they would 
accept birth control clinics as a part of their regular health clinics. Those 
who accepted" — and this now includes most of the local health officers in 
North Carolina and a significant proportion in South Carolina and Alabama 
— received advice, instruction and special supplies. The regular local health 
offices — some of which, therefore, now have birth control clinics — are paid 
for by the state governments and by the Children's Bureau of the federal 
government on a grant-in-aid basis, but they are under the control of 
locally appointed health officers. The cost of birth control supplies is often 
borne by the private birth control organization of the state. When the 
public clinics began in North Carolina, a nurse whose salary and expenses 
were paid by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America gave 
instruction and supplies to the local doctors and nurses. The climes in the 
other states had a similar start. Thus at the beginning the expenses of the 
program were borne by private groups, but there is a strong tendency 

' As we observed in the previous sections of this chapter, Southerners will never publicly 
admit that they would like to see the Negro population decrease, but they do point to the 
poverty that could be avoided if there were fewer Negroes. Another indication that the 
presence of the Negroes is a main reason for the lack of opposition to birth control in the 
South is that, despite lack of opposition to it, birth control is taboo as a subject for public 
or polite conversation even more in the South than in the North. 

* In many cases the local health officer had to get the approval of the county medial 
society. 



I So An American Dilemma 

toward state support with federal aid. Sometimes the patients pay a nominal 
fee. 

Most of the 452 privately supported birth control clinics in the United 
States in 1942 were under the sponsorship of the Planned Parenthood 
Federation of America or its local affiliates. Most of these are in cities. The 
Harlem section of New York got a clinic in 1930. The Federation — with 
funds made available by a white philanthropist — is conducting two demon- 
stration projects important to Negroes: one in urban Nashville, Tennessee, 
and the other in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina. Both projects are 
for Negroes only. The Federation has a Division of Negro Service whose 
primary function is educational. Aided by a national Negro Advisory 
Council of 34 eminent Negro leaders, it works through the Urban Leagues, 
Negro doctors and nurses, the National Hospital Association, the Negro 
press and Negro clubwomen. 05 Some 200 of the Negro Jeanes teachers 
have requested information of the Federation's Division of Negro Service, 
as have hundreds of Southern white health officers and doctors. 68 

The activity of the birth control movement's workers, the Southern 
whites, and the Negro leaders — all with the same aim of spreading birth 
control among Negroes — promises a great development of the movement 
in the future. Since few Negroes are Catholics, and since they do not live 
in areas where Catholics predominate, the chief remaining weakness, as 
far as Negroes are concerned, is the lack of funds for educational work. 
It would seem that, more and more, the Southern states are on the way to 
making public funds available for birth control work. Too, it is likely that 
philanthropy will be more willing to come into this field since it has become 
legal and popularly acceptable in the last five years. 

A more serious difficulty is that of educating Southern Negroes to the 
advantages of birth control. Negroes, on the whole, have all the prejudices 
against it that other poor, ignorant, superstitious people have. 67 More 
serious is the fact that even when they do accept it, they are not very 
efficient in obeying instructions and sometimes they come to feel that it is 
a fake. 68 An intensive educational campaign is needed, giving special recog- 
nition to the prejudices and ignorance of the people whom the campaign 
is to benefit. The use of Negro doctors and nurses is essential. 

With the growing popular and legal acceptance of birth control, it would 
seem that a shift in emphasis is needed. 69 None of the present activities 
should be cut out, but the time has come for more direct and more wide- 
spread educational work. The birth control organizations, having been 
Stung so many times, are chary of direct propaganda that might antagonize 
doctors and others among the "best people." It is true that they seek to 
reach the masses of Negroes through the Urban Leagues, Negro news- 
papers, Jeanes teachers, and Negro clubwomen. But they only tell people 
to see a doctor and so do not get over the fact that there are more easily 



Chapter 7. Population 181 

accessible devices for birth control and venereal prophylaxis than the ones 
usually prescribed by physicians. 70 

Of course special cases do require medical attention, and all persons 
should be told to see a doctor if possible. 71 Medical advice will always be 
an asset in getting over improved techniques of birth control, in adjusting 
individual problems and in securing general health improvement. But 
there is no need for all people to refrain from birth control or prophylaxis 
until they have seen a doctor. So far contraception has been most successful 
on a mass basis among city people who learn about simple methods from 
their friends, not from doctors. What city Negroes now know — as evidenced 
by their low birth rate — merely needs to be told to country Negroes. The 
birth control organizations can do this more effectively, more speedily, and 
more scientifically, than can rumors and jokes. 

The main reason for advocating this shift in emphasis is that mass 
instruction and propaganda reach more people in less time and at lower 
cost than the clinics run by doctors and nurses. 73 The need for birth control 
is common, and is only slightly touched by present activities, despite their 
high cost. If birth control is to achieve mass utilixation, there must be a 
shift in emphasis from time-consuming and expensive instruction of indi- 
viduals to a speedy and inexpensive education of groups. And there should 
not only be groups of women, but also groups of men. Birth control is 
fundamentally a simple matter, and it calls for adult education before 
clinical consultation. 



CHAPTER 8 

MIGRATION 



I. Overview 

There are no comprehensive statistics on internal migration ir j 
Census data on population increase of the several regions from ..j 
to another, and on the state of birth of individuals, will have b\ 
upon for giving what indirect information on migration they ., 
we get from these sources is merely a very approximate meas\\ 
trend of long-range net migration, between regions, of Negroes as ^ - 
pared with whites} Our interest in this chapter will be focused on migration 
defined in this way. 

Ever since they were brought to this country as slaves, Negroes have 
been concentrated in the South. There had been little use for slaves in.the 
North, and the Northern state governments early abolished what slavery 
there was. The South, on the other hand, after an initial period of experi- 
mentation, came to regard slavery as an essential part of its economy, and 
brought Negroes in as long as it was legally possible to do so, and after 
that bred and smuggled them to increase the number of slaves. Part of the 
frontier was then in the Southeast and the Negroes were brought along as 
slaves in the great southward and westward movement of the plantation 
economy. The restriction of slavery to the South, among many other 
factors, limited this forced migration to this new region. The stream of 
free Negroes and fugitive slaves to the North, though highly important 
politically, was not quantitatively significant. 8 If the southward and west- 
ward movement within the slave territory be ignored, the distribution of 
Negroes in the main regions of the country was substantially the same in 
*i86o as it was in 1790. In i860 there was only a scattering of Negroes in 
the North and practically none in the West." 

The Civil War removed the legal restrictions on Negro mobility. It 
also removed the slave owners' interest in moving the Negroes to places 
where they could be most profitably used. There was apparently much 

* In i860, 94.9 per cent of the Negroes in the United States lived in the South (including 
Missouri). Only one-tenth of i per cent lived in non-Southern states west of the Mississippi 
River, and the remaining 5 per cent lived in Northern states east of the Mississippi River. 
{Eighth Census of tht United Stout : iS 60.. TToL I, p. xiii.) 

iSa 



Chapter 8. Migration 183 

wandering locally. Perhaps, Negroes moved locally more than did whites 
in the South since Emancipation gave them a psychological release, and 
since they did not own much land to tie them down. Even today Negroes 
are less "attached to the soil" than whites, and the turnover of Negro share 
tenants is high," But there was, for a long time, little long-distance migra- 
tion out of the South, And even within the South the Negroes seem, on 
the whole, to have become rather more tied to the districts where they 
lived before Emancipation than they had been earlier when they were 
productive capital owned by the employers, and when the plantation 
economy was in its expanding stage. Outside the local migration, the only 
numerically significant migration of Negroes between the Civil War and 
the World War was from rural areas to cities within the South (including 
Washington, D.C.). 

The proportion of Negroes in the North and West b rose from 5.1 per 
cent in i860 to 10.4 per cent in 1910. In'iejio Negroes made up only 1.6 
per cent of the total Northern and Western population (it was 1.2 per 
cent in i860). In 1910, 79.3 per cent of all Northern Negroes lived in 
cities (it was 64.3 per cent in i860). The urban Negro population in the 
South increased during the same period from 6.7 to 22.0 per cent of the 
total Negro population in the region. In i860 Negroes constituted 19.3 
per cent of the Southern urban population and 24.5 per cent in 19 10. 

The Great Migration, starting in 191 5 and continuing in waves from 
then on, has brought changes in the distribution of Negroes in the United 
States. The proportion of all Negroes living in the North and West rose 
to 23.8 per cent in 1940, which signifies a total net migration between 
1910 and 1940 of about 1,750,000 from the South. 8 Negroes constituted, 
in 1940, 3.7 per cent of the total Northern population. Practically all of 
the migrants had gone to the cities and almost all to the big cities. In 1940, 
90.1 per cent of all Negroes in Northern and Western states outside of 
Missouri lived in urban areas. New York City alone claimed 16.9 per cent 
of all Negroes living in the North and West. If the Negroes of Chicago, 
Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh are added to those of 
New York, the proportion rises to 47.2 per cent. The rural North and 
West still remain practically void of Negroes. The total Negro rural-farm 
population outside the South was only 269,760 in i940 c as against 190,572 
in 19 10. In most smaller cities in the North Negroes are also absent, or 

• See Chapter 1 1, Section 8. 

b In this chapter we include Missouri in the South together with the 16 states and the 
District of Columbia, defined by the census as the South. The West, as we define it here, 
inclndes all states west of the Mississippi River except Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas 
and Oklahoma. 

* Of these 269,760 Negroes, 218,963 were rural-nonfarm Negroes and only 50,797 were 
rural farm Negroes. A comparable breakdown in the figures for 1910 is not available. 



1 84 



An American Dilemma 




Chapter 8. Migration 185 

the small stock of old Negro inhabitants has not been materially increased. 

In the South the proportion of the Negro population that lived in cities 
increased from 22.0 per cent to 37.3 per cent between 1910 and 1940. 
Negroes now make up 22.3 per cent of the total urban population of the 
South, while a generation ago the corresponding figure was 24.5 per cent. 
The Southern rural Negro population has shrunk from 78.0 per cent of 
the total number of Southern Negroes in 1910 to 62.7 per cent in 1940. 
The rural Negroes are still distributed in various parts of the South in 
much the same way as in 19 10 and, indeed, as in i860 on the eve of the 
Civil War. 

In spite of the considerable mobility in the last thirty years, the great 
majority of Negroes in the United States still live in the South (Figure 3). 

2. A Closer View 

Why has the Negro not moved around more in America? And why 
have his moves — even in the last generation — been so restricted to a few 
main streams? A satisfactory answer cannot be given because of fragmen- 
tary knowledge. Our attempted answer will have to be abstract, as practi- 
cally all phases of the Negro problem are involved." 

After Emancipation the great masses of American Negroes were concen- 
trated in the rural South, actually some four-fifths of the total Negro 
population. Theoretically, there were four possible types of places where 
they could move. First, they could leave the United States. Second, they 
could take part in the settlement of the frontier West. Third, they could 
move to the growing cities of the South or to other rural areas in the 
South. Finally, they could go North. A consideration of why the Negro 
did, or- did not, make each of these types of movements, and of his motives 
for so doing, will at least formulate some of the main problems involved. b 

Colonization abroad had been attempted in the ante-bellum South as a 
method of getting rid of the free Negroes. The back-to-Africa movement 
is interesting from an ideological point of view.' Its quantitative effects 
upon the Negro population in America were, however, almost nothing. 
Not many white people were ever deeply interested} fewer still were 
prepared to make the necessary financial sacrifices for the passage and 
settlement of Negroes abroad. Most Negroes were not willing to leave 

* For a more intensive treatment of several factors only hinted at in this chapter, we refer 
the reader to later parts of this book, particularly Fart IV on the economic status of the 
Negro. 

* Most of the factual material for this discussion has been taken from Samuel A. Stouffer 
and Lyonel C. Florant, "Negro Population and Negro Population Movements. — 1860-1940, 
in Relation to Social and Economic Factors," unpublished manuscript prepared for this study 
(194.0, levised by Lyonel Florant under title, "Negro Migration.— i86o-i940 w ' [194.1]). 

'See Chapter 38, Section 12. Also see Stouffer and Florant, of. eit., pp. 35-38. 



1 86 An American Dilemma 

America. Nevertheless, the idea of mass emigration, to Africa or some other 
place outside the United States is still not completely out of American 
thinking," although in practice it has not amounted to much so far. 

Some ten thousand Negroes went to Liberia and some thousands to 
Haiti before the Civil War, but after the War this emigration practically 
ceased. 4 Particularly after the Civil War, Negroes in small numbers 
traveled back and forth between the United States and the West Indies, 
but there has been little opportunity for any large-scale emigration to these 
heavily populated, small islands. South America — especially Brazil, where 
there is already a large proportion of Negroes — would seem to offer many 
possibilities to Negroes who wish to leave the United States. Although it 
is conceivable that the closer cultural relations now opening between the 
United States and South America will lead to a significant intermigration 
between these two areas, few have yet taken advantage of those oppor- 
tunities. 

Negroes did not participate in the settlement of the West. In fact, there 
are not many Negroes in the West even today. In 1940 only 2.2 per cent 
of all American Negroes lived west of the Mississippi River (outside of 
Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, which states may be 
considered as part of the South rather than the West). Most of the Negro 
migration to the West has occurred in the last decade: the Western popula- 
tion of Negroes increased 21.1 per cent between 1930 and 1940. But there 
was little migration when the West was a frontier, and land was cheap. 
In 1890 there were only 100,986 Negroes in the West, in 1910 still only 
135,872. 

The reasons for this are not clear, and some historian can do a service by 
investigating the problem. We know that the settlement of Negro freedmen 
in the West was a frequently discussed possibility immediately after the 
Civil War. A few movements to get away from the South developed rather 
scon. By far the biggest one was to Kansas, and may have brought as many 
as 40,000 Negroes to that state. 6 There are reasons to believe that the lack 
of capital and experience on the part of Southern Negroes is only a small 
part of the explanation as to why westward migration generally became 
abortive. There were Negroes who had the little capital necessary to get 
started on their own in the West; others could have begun as laborers, 
who were needed not only on the farms but in the huge construction work 
going on. The primary explanation seems to be that in rural areas of the 
West, white settlers decided that there were not to be any Negroes. b The. 
same seems to have been true in most rural areas of the Northeast and in 

* See Chapter 38, Section 12. 

''This is all the more incomprehensible because Chinese were imported to do the con- 
struction work in the West, and there was much greater prejudice against them than against 
Negroes. 



Chapter 8. Migration 187 

most small towns of the entire North. The closer neighborhood controls 
in smaller communities seem to have blocked the Negro from moving in 
when he was no longer protected as a slave. Even apart from actual pres- 
sure there must have been imagined pressure: individuals in a lower caste, 
like the Negroes, are always on the lookout for discrimination and intimi- 
dation and probably felt that it was not safe to venture into the loneliness 
of a small community. At any rate, it soon became a popular belief among 
Southern Negroes that the only outlet from the Southern Black Belt was 
to the cities and preferably to the big cities, where Negro neighborhoods 
were already established. Negro migration thus early tended to become 
migration between fairly large-sized Negro communities or to be stopped 
altogether. 

But there were cities in the West, and a few of these grew rapidly. In 
them small Negro communities developed, and the Negro inhabitants 
found that there was less prejudice in these new cities than even in the 
Northeastern cities. James Weldon Johnson described San Francisco, for 
example, in 1905: 

I was delighted with San Francisco. Here was a civilized center, metropolitan and 
urbane. With respect to the Negro race, I found it a freer city than New York. I 
encountered no bar against me in hotels, restaurants, theaters, or other places of 
public accommodation and entertainment. We hired a furnished apartment in the 
business area, and took our meals wherever it was most convenient. I moved about 
with a sense of confidence and security, and entirely from under that cloud of doubt 
and apprehension that constantly hangs over an intelligent Negro in every Southern 
city and in a great many cities of the North. . . . The black population was relatively 
small, but the colored people that I met and visited lived in good homes and 
appeared to be prosperous. I talked with some of them about rare conditions; the 
consensus of their comment was that San Francisco was the best city in the United 
States for a Negro. This may, of course, hare been in some degree a reflex of 
prevalent Pacific Coast boosting. 6 

It is surprising that cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle did 
not attract a greater Negro population. Perhaps the long and expensive 
journey to the Western cities has been a deterrent. The competition from 
Orientals and Mexicans as domestics and laborers also has played a role. 
But we are not satisfied with this explanation, although we have nothing 
better to offer. 

The South also had its western frontier. In i860, there was relatively 
little population in the large area which is now Oklahoma and Western 
Texas. After i860, whites began to flow in from more eastern places in 
the South. Later, as the boll weevil, erosion, and mechanization shifted 
cotton westward; and as new occupations developed in agriculture, in live- 
stock production, in mining, and in manufacturing in these areas, whites 
moved in at an increasing rate. But Negroes did not come in any significant 



1 88 An American Dilemma 

numbers. By 1940, Negroes constituted only 12.5 per cent of the population 
of Texas and Oklahoma, and they were not often employed in the new 
occupations. Oil and gas wells in these two states gave employment to 
90,000 in 1930, of whom only 800 were Negroes. In the cities, Negroes 
had little opportunity outside of domestic and personal service: in 1930 
they constituted only 8 per cent of the gainfully occupied in nonagricul- 
tural pursuits aside from domestic and personal service. Negroes did not 
even get much of a share in the new cotton production of these states.* 
Southern prejudice against the Negro seems to be the most potent factor 
in keeping the Negro out of the new opportunities in Texas and Oklahoma. 
In some towns Negroes are not permitted to remain over 24 hours; every- 
where the Negro is "kept in his place." Another factor has been the com- 
petition from the Mexicans, who went into the lowest occupations and 
filled the traditional "Negro jobs." 

Negroes did go to the Southern cities but not nearly to the same extent 
as did the whites. In 1940, Negroes constituted only 22.4 per cent of the 
population of Southern cities over 100,000, and 22.J per cent of the cities 
of that size having 20 per cent of their employed workers in manufacturing 
and construction industries. The growth of the city represents the greatest 
economic change in the South that has occurred since the Civil War. The 
Industrial Revolution, with all its connotation of modern progress and new 
opportunity, came to the South later than it did to the North, but it did 
come. Negroes, however, were not allowed to share in many of its fruits. 
The tradition persisted that Negroes could not operate machines, or at 
least this was the rationalization used to keep them from the new occupa- 
tions. Negroes lost out in many of the skilled occupations they had for- 
merly had. In the Southern city, the Negro is now mainly an unskilled 
laborer or a servant. b 

While the Negroes have probably moved around locally in the South 
a great deal since i860, the net result of this movement has been surpris- 
ingly insignificant. Negroes have not been permitted to take advantage of 
new opportunities in rural areas any more than they have been in urban 
areas. By a reclassification of the South into 140 districts which are much 
more homogeneous in regard to Negroes than the political units formerly 
used by the Census Bureau, 7 Stouffer and Wyant have shown three striking 
facts: 

1. Those Southern districts which tended to have relatively few Negroes 
in i860 grew faster both absolutely and relatively between i860 and 
1930, than those with many Negroes. The former included most of 
the districts which were destined to be most heavily urban in 1930. 

'See Chapter 11, Section 4, and Chapter 12, Section 6. 

b For a more detailed description of the Negro in Southern industry, see Chapter 13. 



Chapter 8. Migration 189 

2. Those Southern districts which tended to have relatively few Negroes 
in i860 also had relatively few in 1930. 8 

3. In 1930, as in i860, the regions of dense Negro population were 
concentrated in the crescent, sometimes narrow, sometimes broad, 
between the Potomac and Texas and between the mountains and the 
sea (see Figure 2). This old plantation belt is "black" today, as it was 
at the time of Emancipation, although the proportion of Negroes in 
the population has declined. The two great mountain regions — the 
Appalachians and the Ozarks — were still almost entirely devoid of 
Negroes, and areas in the Border states outside the mountains tended 
to show decreases rather than increases in the percentage Negro. 

Not only did the Negro not share in the expanding opportunities in the 
South, but also the areas in which the Negroes lived declined from an 
economic standpoint. Most important was the deterioration of cotton pro- 
duction in the Black Belt of the Southeast. In the states east of Mississippi, 
Negro-operated farms produced 643,000 fewer bales of cotton in 1929 
than in 1909, while white-operated farms increased production by 90,000 
bales. 8 

Thus we have seen that the Negro did not share much in the growth 
Df the West and of the South. For a long while — until the World War, 
in fact — it did not seem that he would share in the even greater growth 
of the North. During and immediately after the First World War came 
the Great Migration, and ever since then Negroes have not stopped coming 
to the urban North. 10 Negroes probably came in greater relative numbers 
than the Southern whites who had more opportunities within the old South 
and in the new South of Texas and Oklahoma, but they did not come as 
rapidly after 1915 as did the white immigrants from Europe before the 
First World War. By 1940 there were 2,439,201 Negroes living in the 
North, east of the Mississippi River, or 19.0 per cent of the total Negro 
population in the country and 3.9 per cent of the total Northern population. 
Population distribution within the South was, of course, somewhat affected 
by the northward migration after 19 14. Many Negroes went North from 
the Border states, and their number was not quite replenished by Negroes 
coming from farther South. Those portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, and 
Georgia which lie east of the mountains lost Negro population most heavily, 
but have made it up — except for the Piedmont area—by natural increase." 

The inadequate explanation that we gave in discussing lack of migration 
to the West is all we have to account for the extreme concentration in a 
few Northern cities. There is enough industrial activity, and there could 
be opportunity for anonymity, as well as a low level of race prejudice, in 
many of the smaller cities of the North to permit a significant immigration 



190 An American Dilemma 

of Negroes. That Negroes have not migrated to these places is as much 
of a mystery as the relative absence of migration to the West. 

Another mystery — which is not entirely outside our problem, as the 

conditions and behavior of Negroes are constantly compared with those 

of their white neighbors — is why poor white Southerners during the entire 

period after the Civil War did not move in greater numbers to the North 

than they did. The Industrial Revolution came to the Northern cities long 

before the Civil War. But the period since i860 has witnessed the greatest 

mechanization and expansion of industry. Over-population and poverty 

have loomed over the South all the time. It is true that the whites could 

move to the Southwest which was mostly closed to the Negroes. The 

whites also reserved for themselves most of the jobs in the developing 

industry in the South. But industrial wages were low and many whites 

were pressed down to share tenancy in the rural districts.* As compared to 

the European immigrants, who formed the bulk of the labor supply for 

the factories in the North, they should have had the advantage of knowing 

the language and of being more familiar with American ways and manners. 

In 1930 the percentage of all Southern-born Negroes who lived in the 

Northern states east of the Mississippi River was double the percentage of 

Southern-born whites living in these Northern states. Most of the Southern 

whites living in the North were from the Border states. If we leave the 

Border states out of consideration, the proportion of Negroes born in the 

Lower South and living in the North outnumbered, by a ratio of five to 

one, the proportion of whites born in the Lower South and living in the 

North. Despite the fact that most Southern-born whites living in the North 

came from the Border states, Negroes born in the Border states and living 

in the North outnumbered, by a ratio of two to one, the proportion of 

whites born in the Border states and living in the North. 12 This lack of 

migration of whites from the South is especially striking when it is realized 

that there were almost as many Northern-born whites in the South as there 

were Southern-born whites in the North. In 1930 there were 1,931,799 

Southern-born whites living in the Northern states outside of the Mountain 

and Pacific Divisions; but there were 1,821,678 whites born in these 

Northern states living in the South. 13 Even if we subtract Northern-born 

whites living in Washington, D.C., from the latter figure, we have 

1,732,120 Northern-born whites living in the South. 14 

The corresponding figures for Negroes were: 1,355,789 Southern-born 
Negroes living in the Northern states outside of the Mountain and Pacific 
Divisions and 52,338 Negroes born in these Northern states living in the 
South. Of the latter, 4,621 were living in Washington, D.C., which left 
only 47,717 Northern-born Negroes living in the rest of the South." The 
difference between numbers of Southern whites and Southern Negroes 

* See Chapter 1 1. 



Chapter 8. Migration 191 

living in the North is even more striking when it is remembered that there 
were more than two and a half times as many whites born in the South as 
there were Negroes. Thus, when discussing the causes as to why the stream 
of Negro migrants to the North before 19 15 was so small, it should be 
remembered that the Southern whites followed the same pattern. And the 
Great Migration of Negroes after 19 15 is the more significant when it is 
realized that it was much bigger — relative to the size of the respective 
population — than the corresponding migration of Southern whites. 

3. The Great Migration to the Urban North 10 

For the average Negro, living conditions in the North have always been 
more favorable than in the South. The North has — in spite of considerable 
discrimination— offered him more economic opportunities (in relief if not 
in employment), more security as a citizen, and a greater freedom as a 
human being. The concrete import of this general statement will become 
clearer as we proceed in our inquiry. Nevertheless, this great difference 
did not, by itself, cause more than a tiny stream of northward migration 
for almost two generations. 

On the whole, the difference was probably widening after 1870. Jim 
Crow legislation and disfranchisement were being perfected in the South 
in the decades around the turn of the century. Lynching and legal inse- 
curity did not start to decrease until the 1890's, and the drop was not great 
until the 1920's. Schools for Negroes were generally improved but not 
so fast as for the whites and not nearly so fast as in the North. The slow 
trend toward Negro landownership was broken just after the turn of the 
century. The natural increase of the Southern population was large, and 
the corresponding expansion of employment opportunities retarded. 
Negroes were not allowed to share much in the opportunities that did 
develop. Whites began to monopolize the new cotton growing in the 
Southwest and also to infringe on the traditional "Negro jobs." Except for 
a small proportion of Negro professionals and businessmen who served 
their own people, few Negroes in the South had opportunity to improve 
their economic position. At least in a subjective sense — which is the impor- 
tant thing in discussing human motivation — the difference in desirability 
between South and North widened as Southern Negroes became more 
educated and came to know the outside world better. 

In the North, industrial expansion was tremendous after the Civil War, 
creating new employment opportunities for millions of immigrants. The 
few Negroes in the North were largely kept out of industrial employment 
but found a ready demand as domestics and in other service jobs. In many 
places it was a fashion among the wealthy to hire Negroes as servants in 
preference to European immigrants. Many middle class whites also came 
to prefer Negroes— largely because they did not object to the hardest work 



192 



An American Dilemma 



and did not expect much in wages. A second important demand factor 
came from the big industries when white workers went out on strike. A 
third element in the migration before the First World War was the escape 



Thpuaanda 
2,200 
LZ50 
2*£00 
8,250 
2,000 
L250 
USoo 

IfOQ O 

_Z50 
_loo 
-J50 

_0 



Figure 4. The Northward Migration 

Par Cant 
22. 

ii 

14- 
-12- 

.10 
J, 

Lfi. 

4 



Total Dumber of 
Negroes In Northern 
and Western States 



£ 



■&-!=- 



Par Cant 






Negroes Living in 
Northern and Western 
States as a Propor- 
tion of All Negroes i 



8_ 
JL 

Li 

4_ 

_3_ 
2 



Negroes In Six Selected 
Northern Cities as 1 
Proportion of the 
Total Population of 
Those Cities 



*f 



f 8 i 



r-» f-* H 

vO \C \C 

■o 8 tt S 




Source: United States Census. 

Notes: In each diagram, the calculation for 1870 is based on the assumption that the 
figures are mid-way between those of i860 and 18 So. Missouri is considered as part of 
the South. 

The Bix selected Northern cities are: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleve- 
land and Pittsburgh. These cities are those Northern ones, outside of cities in Missouri, 
which contained the largest Negro populations in 1930. Brooklyn is included in New York 
City even before the date on which it was legally incorporated with it. 

of upper class Negroes who desired to improve themselves. These were 
few in number, and many managed to get placed in commerce and industry 
on an almost equal basis with the whites. 17 



Chapter 8. Migration 193 

But — except for occasional sudden influxes of Negroes as a result of the 
demands for strikebreakers — the stream of Negroes moving to the North 
never swelled much (Figure 4). In the normal case the industrial em- 
ployers found their demand for unskilled labor well filled by European 
immigrants. The workers themselves often resented Negro competition. 
This is not a full explanation of why the North did not attract more 
Negroes, however, since the labor market was immense in comparison to 
the supply of Negro labor, and since the service occupations would, even 
at that time, have been preferable to Southern Negroes, particularly when 
we remember all the other advantages for a Negro in the North. The slow 
but accelerating increase in northward Negro net migration (Figure 4) 
confirms our general hypothesis of a widening gap in the subjective desir- 
ability between the two regions as places to live. But, as we said, the rate 
of migration did not become large until the World War. Much in the 
Great Migration after 19 15 is left unexplained if we do not assume that 
there was before 19 15 an existing and widening difference in living condi- 
tions between South and North which did not express itself in a mass 
migration simply because the latter did not get a start and become a pattern. 

In this situation of accumulated migration potentialities several factors 
of change coincided and created a shock effect after 1915. In the South 
"white infiltration" into the types of work formerly monopolized by 
Negroes, the relative shift westward of cotton growing, and the ravages 
of the boll weevil made the Negro cotton farmer still worse off. Drought, 
too, made farming difficult in 191 6 and 19 17. The First World War 
stirred up people's minds and prepared them for change. The draft actually 
moved a great number of Negro men from their home communities. The 
draft of white workers, the stopping of immigration, and the general war 
prosperity forced Northern industry to turn actively to Negroes for new 
workers. There was a "push" in the South and there was a "pull" in the 
North, widening tremendously the already existing differences in oppor- 
tunities for a Negro in the two regions. When factors of inertia were once 
overcome and the northward mass migration was started, the movement 
quickly took on momentum. A new pattern of behavior was setj a new 
hope in the possibilities in the North was created. Lines of communication 
between North and South were established. 

If the migration is thus explained in terms of "conditions" and "factors" 
and a "difference in opportunities," it should, of course, not be assumed 
that an accurate picture has thereby been given of the actual motivation of 
the individuals moving. The motivation was probably different for each 
Negro who migrated, and it involved a conscious consideration of all the 
personal elements in the situation that the individual happened to think 
of and judged as relevant — not only, and sometimes not even primarily, 
the economic opportunities. 18 It also involved a number of poorly-thought- 



194 An American Dilemma 

out elements, unconscious influences and "chance" factors. The precipitating 
"cause" of migration of an individual might be such an event as the spurn- 
ing of a young man by his sweetheart, or the death of a grandmother who 
was too old to be moved. 18 

What actually happened to a great number of Negroes at the start of 
the Great Migration must have been that they were unsettled, like every- 
one else, by the War and by all the changes occurring in the industrial 
system and the labor market. They found their chances in the South 
particularly bad. In addition, they heard about new openings in the North. 
Negroes already in the North wrote letters to relatives or friends in the 
South. Such letters were often passed around the community or their 
contents were passed on by word of mouth among the illiterates. To these 
means of communication were added those of the Negro press and the 
labor agents. Negro newspapers stimulated migration not only by printing 
advertisements of specific jobs, but also by editorials and news comments 
on the better conditions for Negroes in the North. These affected individual 
Negroes and also set the topic of friendly social discussion in many Negro 
communities. 

It is impossible to estimate the influence of agents, both white and 
Negro, sent out by Northern industries. At first they were ignored by the 
Southern whites, but during the boom days of 191 7 and thereafter, their 
activities were hampered in many ways, both legally and illegally. Not 
only were there agents with specific promises of jobs and money to pay 
the railroad fare of Negroes who desired to take these jobs, but there were 
rumors of agents who did not exist except in the distorted perceptions or 
imaginations of rumor-spreaders. Negroes who were influenced by such 
rumors did not have much difficulty in getting jobs during the War, but 
they had to pay their own railroad fare when they had not expected to. 

A desire to improve oneself economically by going North was, of course, 
a chief motive for migration. Many had heard about specific job opportu- 
nities, and many had friends who had become well-to-do in the North, but 
just as important was the general myth of Northern prosperity. Generally, 
the Negro was sought as an unskilled laborer and in such an occupation, for 
the most part, he had to stay. The North, as well as the South, has been 
hesitant to mix the machine and the Negro;* and yet, whether measured 
in terms of proportions in "desirable" occupations, average income, avail- 
ability of unemployment relief, or of other types of social security benefits, 
the Negro is considerably better off in the North than in the South." 

Allied, with the desire for economic improvement was a desire for social 
improvenient. Like many other oppressed people, Negroes placed a high 
preimttm«n education. In the North, Negroes not only had access to more 

*For evidence, see Chapter 13. 

'For statistical documentation of these statements, see Chapters 13, 14, 15 and 16. 



Chapter 8. Migration 195 

and better schools, but they could more easily earn the money to go to 
them. Many Negroes also felt they could no longer tolerate their subor- 
dinate and restricted position. Both the fact and the myth of Northern 
equality played a role in stimulating some Negroes to go North. Such 
Negroes were usually those who had some taste of a society in which their 
position was not so low — such as those who read books or corresponded 
with Northern friends, or those who had served in the United States Army 
during the World War. The general freedom, excitement, and anonymity 
of city life also attracted many rural Southern Negroes. A small number 
of Negroes went North because they found themselves -persona non grata 
with Southern whites for one reason or another. 

There were a number of things which retarded migration. Even the 
Great Migration during and after the World War brought only a small 
proportion of Southern Negroes to the North. Perhaps a majority of them 
were not even considering migrating. Except during the war boom, 
Negroes realized that there were only a limited number of jobs in the 
North. Owners of Northern industry were not very willing to hire Negro 
workers except when orders were pilling up, and European immigrant 
laborers could not be had because of the War or legal restrictions on immi- 
gration. Northern industrialists often believed in the stereotype of the 
lazy and inefficient Negro, and often their limited observations strengthened 
their belief. Some had the legitimate doubt whether Negroes, used to 
forced labor on farms, could be adapted to free labor in factories. Too, 
they did not wish to offend their white workers, who were in the majority. 
Most white unions, faced with Negroes coming into their industries, fought 
the Negroes; and white workers generally opposed black competition. On 
the other hand, some Negroes were, or felt they were, fairly well estab- 
lished economically in the South. In some cases the economic tie was 
actually a chain. In the turpentine industry, for example, Negroes worked 
and lived in isolated camps, and were forced to buy in company stores. 
The owners, in order to maintain a steady and cheap labor supply, saw 
to it that the Negro laborers ran into debt, and connived with the law- 
enforcement agencies to prevent Negroes from escaping that debt. 

There were not only economic ties, but also all sorts of social ties. Few 
persons like to leave permanently their families and friends and places 
familiar to them to go to a strange place. This fear of the unknown was 
enhanced by the stories that grew up about the North as a lawless and 
licentious place. It was— being North — a cold place, where Negroes— being 
used to warm climates — died in droves. A few migrants disliked the North 
so much that they returned South, and discouraged their friends. 20 Then, 
too, many Negroes did not know how to go about getting a train ticket, 
and others did not have enough money to buy one. 

Negro leaders were divided as to the desirability of a northward migra- 



196 An American Dilemma 

tion. Some saw the North as a place where members of their race could 
get a new start in life, economically, socially and politically. Others felt 
that migration was a disrupting force, and that the Negro problem could 
not be solved by running away from it. Some professionals and businessmen 
in the South were afraid of losing their clientele, and some community 
leaders were afraid of losing their communities. A number of them joined 
in the caravan, but the ones left behind were not particularly happy about 
it all. The upper class Negroes in the North had mixed feelings with 
respect to the new migration. On the one hand, they saw their own social 
status decreasing: prejudice mounted against Negroes in the North as a 
reaction to the sudden influx of rough Southern Negroes.' On the other 
hand, the economic basis of their businesses or professions broadened as 
the Negro community grew. 

4. Continued Northward Migration 

After the First World War many of the same influences continued, 
and Negroes kept up their migration northward. After a few years of 
depression, unprecedented prosperity brought a new demand for industrial 
goods. Immigration laws effectively kept out competitors to American 
labor, except for Mexicans and a few French-Canadians. Cotton production 
in the South Atlantic and East South Central states was still in the dol- 
drums, though not so badly as during the War. Also important was the 
fact that a pattern of migration had been well started; fear and local ties 
were no longer so potent in deterring migration as they had been before 
the War. Jobs, however, were not so plentiful in the North, and a housing 
shortage for Negroes, who were kept in segregated quarters of the cities, 
caused rents to eat up a large part df the Negro's wage. 

With the depression beginning in 1929, a new set of circumstances arose 
to determine the extent of the Negro's migration northward. There were 
no longer new jobs for Negroes in the North j in fact, Negroes there were 
laid off by the thousands. In November, 1937, 39 per cent of the male 
nonwhite labor force in Northern states outside of the Rocky Mountain 
and Pacific Coast Divisions were unemployed. 21 

* An elderly upper class Negro woman who had lived all her life in the North told an 
interviewer in 1927: 

"The Negro invasion began about 191 5. Until that titne we had been accepted as equals 
but as soon as the Southern Negroes began coming in we were relegated to their class. 
Our white friends shunned us and we were really without social life until our own group 
was better organized. . . . We really do not mingle with the Southern Negro and they do 
not come near us as they know'* that we are Northerners." 

This woman was president of a local society composed of Negroes who had lived in the 
North fox at least 35 years, or their descendants. (Unpublished document in possession of the 
Social Science Research Committee of the University of Chicago, "History of Douglas," 
document No. 15). 



Chapter 8. Migration 197 

But a new form of livelihood arose to take the place of jobs. This was 
public assistance in its many forms. It was much harder for Negroes who 
needed it to get relief in the South than in the North. In 1935 around 
half of all Negro families in the North were on relief." Hence Negroes 
were again attracted northward — though not to the same extent as during 
the period of the World War and the 1920's. Many Northern states set 
up residence requirements — ranging up to five years — to keep out migrants 
seeking relief. These requirements were not rigorously enforced in the 
early days of the depression, but even when they were, Negroes felt it 
better to trust to luck for odd jobs or to their friends until the residence 
requirements had been met, rather than to meet almost sure starvation in 
the South. b Relief and the residence requirements for relief also had the 
effect of cutting down on the remigration to the South. c 

Economic conditions had become relatively worse for Negroes in the 
South during the depression. Whites who had lost their small farms or 
their better jobs in the cities began to encroach on the Negroes in the heavy 
unskilled occupations and even in the service occupations — the traditional 
jobs of the Southern Negro. Southern agriculture became worse, and the 
poorest owners and tenants — which included a disproportionate share of 
Negroes — were forced out. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration 
of the federal government — in an effort to aid Southern agriculture — 
forced out the poorest among both white and Negro agriculturists even 
more." Most of these — including practically all the whites — went on relief, 
but many of the Negroes could not get relief and so moved North where 
no color distinction was made in the administration of public assistance." 

Most experts believed, during the 'thirties, that the northward Negro 
migration had diminished considerably. Now that the preliminary results 
of the 1940 Census are available, we know that it has kept up. It was not 
so high during the 'thirties as it had been from 191 5 to 1930, but the 
remarkable thing is that it has kept up at all in the absence of employment 
opportunities in the North. 22 

5. The Future of Negro Migration 

Taking the long historical view, the main observations to be made about 
Negro migration are that the Negro people have tended to stay where 

'See Chapter 15. 

"See Chapter 16. 

'Also, persons who are able to support themselves after a fashion but know that they 
may be in need of relief sometime in the future, often consider local relief differentials 
when deciding on whether or not they want to migrate. Such potential relief clients are 
particularly numerous, of course, in the Negro group. 

* See Chapter iz. 

* For the statistical facts on unemployment, public assistance, and agriculture in the South, 
see Part IV of this book. 



19$ An American Dilemma 

they were. Their movements between the regions of the country have been 
decidedly more restricted in amount and direction than those of the whites. 
This trend is as significant as the slower growth of the Negro population 
when compared with the wh'te population, which we analyzed in the 
preceding chapter. 

The restriction of long-range mobility of Negroes is — to an extent and 
in a certain direction — a thing of the past. We found that the long immo- 
bility of the Negroes was not unrelated to the white immigration, which 
filled the demand for unskilled labor in the fast-growing industrial struc- 
ture of the North. The white Southerners had a natural increase large 
enough to fill most of those jobs in the lagging industry of the South. 
The stopping of immigration during the First World War was one of the 
factors suddenly giving the Negro a chance in Northern industry. But the 
influence of immigration as a cause of immobility and the stoppage of 
immigration as a cause, later, of greater mobility were interwoven in a 
complicated fashion with many other factors. Northern industry went into 
a period of mechanization, decreasing tremendously its demand for un- 
skilled labor. During the 'thirties a great industrial stagnation hampered 
the growth of employment opportunities. But once unleashed, the north- 
ward Negro migration continued through good and bad times. 

To forecast the future of Negro migration is, of course, difficult. It will 
be determined by social trends and by public policy. Certain of the main 
conditioning factors stand out rather clearly. 

The liberty of the individual to move freely in the country is a firmly 
entrenched principle of the American Creed. The future development will 
probably be to reinforce still more in practice the individual's freedom to 
migrate. 28 It is true that Northern cities are usually not desirous of having 
Negroes move in. There are a number of measures which can be taken 
in order to keep out Negro migrants. But none are effective, at least not 
in the big cities where Negroes have already gained a strong foothold. 
Smaller cities have often kept out Negroes by social pressure or resort to 
intimidation. In the South peonage or semi-peonage has prevented some 
Negroes from moving away. This practice has largely been stamped out 
during the 'thirties by legal action or is losing its motivation because of 
the oversupply of Negro labor." 

There would, on the contrary, be a possibility of establishing a positive 
migration policy of helping the Negroes get to the places where theif 
opportunities on the labor market are best. Such a policy would be consist- 
ent with the, American Creed." It seems not improbable that such a labor 
information service will develop as part of the public control of the labor 

'See Chapter i* *nd Chapter 26, Section 2. 

* See Chapter 9. The details of our suggestion will be presented in Chapter :•/, Section 3. 



Chapter 8. Migration 199 

market which is beginning to take shape during the present War and which 
will become still more of a necessity in the post-war economic crisis. 

Leaving this prospect aside, there seem to be good reasons to expect 
a continuation of the northward migration, in spite of depressions and 
booms. The pattern is now set and the lines of communication established. 
The War and the post-war crisis arc again stirring up the Negro people, 
and the psychological effects will probably be cumulative as in the First 
World War. The general level of education and knowledge of the outside 
world is rising among Southern Negroes. In the South the continued crisis 
in cotton growing, which we foresee, and the concentration of its effects 
on the Negro farmers will continue to act as a tremendous push." The low 
Negro reproduction rate in Southern cities will, by itself, give space for a 
continual influx from the surrounding rural areas. Industrialization in the 
South also is perhaps going to continue at a more rapid rate than in the 
North . b One would expect that this would draw whites away from the 
poorer, unskilled, and service jobs in the cities and so make more room for 
Negroes at the bottom of the Southern urban occupational structure. But 
over-population is so serious in the region and the pattern of giving all 
new industrial jobs to whites only is so firmly established that it does not 
seem likely that the industrial development will, directly or indirectly, 
give Negroes anything like the number of jobs required. 

In the North, there arc fair prospects of a somewhat decreased economic 
discrimination against Negro workers. If, in a later stage of the present 
War, Negroes are brought into industry to a greater extent/ this might 
condition white workers in the North to be better prepared to accept 
Negroes as co-workers. And there are other factors working in the same 
direction.* 1 The great size of the Northern labor market compared with the 
Negro population there also keeps employment opportunities better. The 
fact that Northern Negroes are not reproducing their numbers from 
generation to generation, while there is a»positive natural increase among 
Southern Negroes, tends also to promote a steady shift of Negroes from 
the South to the North. The existing differentials in public assistance treat- 
ment accorded Negroes between the South and the North will probably 
continue. The importance of this factor for keeping up migration in 
depressions has been seen during the 'thirties. 

With the West opened up, it would seem that it would be no different 
from the North in attracting Negroes. It is the writer's impression that, on 

'See Chapter 12. 

"The faster rate of industrialization in the South than in the North is a development 
of the last two decades. 
"See Chapter 19. 
See Chapter 45. 
* See Chapter 16. 



200 An American Dilemma 

the whole, Negroes meet relatively less discrimination in the West than 
in parts of the Middle West and the East. This, of course, does not apply, 
to much of the Southwest where Southern whites have gone and have 
brought their attitudes toward the Negro with them. The small number 
of Negroes already in the West, the relatively small amount of race 
prejudice there, and the heavy demand for servants in California will 
perhaps make the West Coast cities more popular as places for Negro immi- 
gration than Northern cities in the Eastern half of the country. The 
relatively great extent of Negro migration to California in the last decade 
is perhaps indicative of a future trend. 24 Since Negroes get practically their 
only new economic opportunities in growing cities, we may expect that most 
of the westward migration will be to the cities of the West Coast and not 
to inland cities and rural districts. 26 

A great deal will depend upon the future development of employment 
opportunities in the war boom, the post-war crisis, and the solution found 
for this crisis. The development through these future emergencies will be 
shaped, not only by the free play of economic forces in a market, but 
increasingly by governmental policies called forth by these emergencies. 
We shall come back to these problems in Chapter 19. 

As a concluding note, it should be stressed that there is no doubt that 
migration to the North and West is a tremendous force in the general 
amelioration of the Negro's position. It is even more: northward migration 
is a necessity if the economic status of Southern Negroes is not to deteri- 
orate as cotton growing disappears as a means of getting a living for the 
masses of rural Negroes. Migration out of the South, further, means not 
inly economic improvement to the Negro. It also gives him a social status 
approaching equality.' It increases the Negro vote, which might become 
of rising importance for national policy. 6 The experience of the migration 
of 1917-1919 also suggests that emigration of a significant number of 
Negroes is one of the surest ways of stimulating the Southern whites to 
give more consideration to the Negroes that remain in the South. At any 
rate it seems certain that a concentration of unemployed Negroes on relief 
in the South will only deteriorate race relations in that region. 

Many writers have felt that the partial exodus of the Negro population 
from the South to the North would "solve" the Negro problem. In doing 
this, some Northern writers have been thinking of the effects on the 
Southern white people. 28 Some others, mainly among Southern writers, 
have thought about the effect on Northern whites: They believe that race 
prejudice will rise with the proportion of Negroes present in Northern 
communities j and they feel* that when Northern attitudes become more 
like the Southern attitudes, they will lay the basis for a more unified 

•See Part VIL 
" See Part V. 



Chapter 8. Migration 20 r 

national opinion about how to treat Negroes. 27 Still others, and to this 
group belong most Negro writers, have their attention fixed on the rise 
in education, general culture, and political power of the Negro people, and 
believe that the northward migration will improve the Negro's position 
in both North and South. 28 

We shall not take part in this dispute, except to emphasize three things: 
first, that there is probably some truth in the first two statements; second, 
that, independent of this, migration to the North means a tremendous 
amelioration of the Negro's status in America; but, third, that the "solu- 
tion" of the Negro problem — even taken in a relativistic sense of develop- 
ing a gradual but steady improvement of race relations — is much too 
complicated to be solved by migration. Governmental intervention is rising, 
and this trend means that the change of race relations is no longer deter- 
mined by such "natural" developments as migration but by a complex of 
intentional policies affecting not only migration but all other spheres of 
the problem. 



Part IV 
ECONOMICS 



CHAPTER 9 

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY 



r. Negro Poverty 

The economic situation of the Negroes in America is pathological. 
Except for a small minority enjoying upper or middle class status, the 
masses of American Negroes, in the rural South and in the segregated 
slum quarters in Southern and Northern cities, are destitute. They own 
little property; even their household goods are mostly inadequate and 
dilapidated. Their incomes are not only low but irregular. They thus live 
from day to day and have scant security for the future. Their entire culture 
and their individual interests and strivings are narrow. 

These generalizations will be substantiated and qualified in the following 
chapters. For this purpose the available information is immense, and we 
shall, in the main, be restricted to brief summaries. Our interest in this part 
of our inquiry will be to try to unravel the causal relations underlying the 
abnormal economic status of the American Negro. We want to understand 
how it has developed and fastened itself upon the economic fabric of 
modern American society. It is hoped that out of a study of trends and 
situations will emerge an insight into social and economic dynamics which 
will allow inferences as to what the future holds for the economic well- 
being of the American Negro people. This future development will depend 
in part upon.public policy, and we shall discuss the various alternatives for 
induced change. Certain value premises will be made explicit both in order 
to guide our theoretical approach and to form the basis for the practical 
analysis. 

Before we proceed to select our specific value premises, let us ask this 
question: Why is such an extraordinarily large proportion of the Negro 
people so poor? The most reasonable way to start answering this question 
is to note the distribution of the Negro people in various regions and 
occupations. We then find that the Negroes are concentrated in the South, 
which is generally a poor and economically retarded region. A dispropor- 
tionate number of them work in agriculture, which is a depressed industry. 
Most rural Negroes are in Southern cotton agriculture, which is particu- 
larly over-populated j backward in production methods; and hard hit by 
soil exhaustion, by the boll weevil, and by a long-time fall in international 

305 



206 An American Dilemma 

demand for American cotton. In addition, Jrew Negro farmers own the land 
they work on, and the little land they do own is much poorer and less 
well-equipped than average Southern farms. Most Negro farmers are 
concentrated in the lowest occupations in agriculture as sharecroppers or 
wage laborers. In the North, there are practically no Negroes in agriculture. 
Nonagricultural Negro workers are, for the most part, either in low-paid 
service occupations or have menial tasks in industry. Few are skilled 
workers. Most of the handicrafts and industries in the South where they 
have a traditional foothold are declining. The majority of manufacturing 
industries do not give jobs to Negroes. Neither in the South nor in the 
North are Negroes in professional, business, or clerical positions except in 
rare instances and except when serving exclusively the Negro public — and 
even in this they are far from having a monopoly. 

The unemployment risk of Negroes is extraordinarily high. During the 
depression, government relief became one of the major Negro "occupa- 
tions." Indeed, the institution of large-scale public relief by the New Deal 
is almost the only bright spot in the recent economic history of the Negro 
people. 

Such a survey, however, even when carried out in greater detail, does 
not, by itself, explain why Negroes are so poor. The question is only carried 
one step backward and at the same time broken into parts: Why are 
Negroes in the poorest sections of the country, the regressive industries, 
the lowest paid jobs? Why are they not skilled workers? Why do they not 
hold a fair proportion of well-paid middle class positions? Why is their 
employment situation so precarious? 

We can follow another approach and look to the several factors of 
economic change. In most cases changes in the economic process seem to 
involve a tendency which works against the Negroes. When modern tech- 
niques transform old handicrafts into machine production, Negroes lose 
jobs in the former but usually do not get into the new factories, at least 
not at the machines. Mechanization seems generally to displace Negro 
labor. When mechanized commercial laundries replace home laundries, 
Negro workers lose jobs. The same process occurs in tobacco manufacture, 
in the lumber industry and in the turpentine industry. When tractors and 
motor trucks are introduced, new "white men's jobs" are created out of 
old "Negro jobs" on the farm and in transportation. Progress itself seems 
to work against the Negroes. When work becomes less heavy, less dirty, or 
less risky, Negroes are displaced. Old-fashioned, low-paying, inefficient 
enterprises, continually being driven out of competition, are often the only 
ones that/employ much Negro labor. 

Although there are no good data on employment trends by race, it 
seems {hdt the business cycles show something of the same tendency to 
wefit«gainst Negroes as do technical changes. It is true that Negroes, more 



Chapter 9. Economic Inequality 207 

than whites, are concentrated in service industries and in certain mainte- 
nance occupations (janitors, floor-sweepers, and so forth) which are 
relatively well-protected from depressions. On the other hand, the Negro 
agricultural laborer is more likely to be forced out by depressions than is 
the white farmer and farm worker. In fact, in almost every given occupa- 
tion Negroes tend to be "first fired" when depression comes. Even in the 
service and maintenance occupations, Negroes are fired to give jobs to 
white workers. When prosperity returns, the lost ground is never quite 
made up. As cycle succeeds cycle, there is a tendency toward cumulative 
displacement of Negroes. The general level of unemployment, depression 
or no depression, is always higher for Negroes than for whites, and the 
discrepancy is increasing. 

Likewise the organization of the labor market by trade unions has, 
most of the time, increased the difficulties for Negroes to get and to hold 
jobs. Even social legislation instituted in order to protect the lowest paid 
and most insecure workers — among whom the Negroes ordinarily belong — 
is not an undivided blessing to Negro workers. When the employer finds 
that he has to take measures to protect his workers' health and security and 
to pay them higher wages, he often substitutes, voluntarily or under pres- 
sure, white workers for Negroes. Sometimes sweatshop industries, existing 
only because of low-paid Negro labor, are actually driven out of business 
by legislation or union pressure, and the Negro is again the victim instead 
of the beneficiary of economic and social progress. 

Of course, Negroes are pressing hard in all directions to get jobs and 
earn a living. The number of job-seeking Negroes is constantly increased, 
as the shrinkage of the international cotton market, the national agricul- 
tural policy under the A.A.A. program, and the displacement of Negroes 
from traditional jobs, all create a growing unemployment. Negroes are 
willing — if it were allowed them — to decrease their demand for remuner- 
ation, and they are prepared to take the jobs at the bottom of the 
occupational hierarchy. But still their unemployment is growing relative 
to that of the whites. 

Again we are brought to ask: Why are the Negroes always the unlucky 
ones? What is this force which, like gravitation, holds them down in the 
struggle for survival and economic advance? To these questions — as to the 
closely related questions stated above — we shall find the detailed answers 
as diverse as the structure of modern economic life itself. But there will be 
a common pattern in the answers. 

2. Our Main Hypothesis: The Vicious Circle 

This common pattern is the vicious circle of cumulative causation out* 
lined in Chapter 3 and Appendix 3. 
There is a cultural and institutional tradition that white people exploit 



208 An American Dilemma 

Negroes. In the beginning the Negroes were owned as property. When 
slavery disappeared, caste remained. Within this framework of adverse 
tradition the average Negro in every generation has had a most disadvan- 
tageous start. Discrimination against Negroes is thus rooted in this tradition 
of economic exploitation. It is justified by the false racial beliefs we studied 
in Chapter 4. This depreciation of the Negro's potentialities is given a 
semblance of proof by the low standards of efficiency, reliability, ambition, 
and morals actually displayed by the average Negro. This is what the white 
man "sees," and he opportunistically exaggerates what he sees. He "knows" 
that the Negro is not "capable" of handling a machine, running a business 
or learning a profession. As we know that these deficiencies are not inborn 
in him — or, in any case, in no significant degree — we must conclude that 
they are caused, directly or indirectly, by the very poverty wc are trying 
to explain, and by other discriminations in legal protection, public health, 
housing, education and in every other sphere of life. 

This scheme of causal interrelation is as important in explaining why 
Negroes are so poor and in evaluating the wider social effects of Negro 
poverty, as it is in attempting practical planning to raise the economic level 
of the Negro people. The dynamics of the problem is this: A primary 
, change, induced or unplanned, affecting any one of three bundles of inter- 
/ dependent causative factors-*(i) the economic level; (2) standards of 
intelligence, ambition, health, education, decency, manners, and morals; 
and O) discrimination by whites — will bring changes in the other two and, 
through mutual interaction, move the whole system along in one direction 
or the other. No single factor, therefore, is the "final cause" in a theoretical 
sense. From a practical point of view we may, however, call certain factors 
"strategic" in the sense that they can be controlled. 

The statistics of the system can be illustrated by the following comments 
on the Negro sharecropper in the rural South: 

Shif tlessness and laziness are reported as reasons iot the dependent state, whereas, 
in fact, in so far as they exist, they are not necessarily inherent, but are caused by 
the very conditions of the share-cropping system. ... It is a notorious and shameful 
fact that the stock arguments employed against any serious efforts to improve the 
Iot of the cotton tenant are based upon the very social and cultural conditions which 
tenancy itself creates. The mobility of the tenant, his dependence, his lack of 
ambition, shiftlcssness, his ignorance and poverty, the lethargy of his pellagra-ridden 
body, provide a ready excuse for keeping him under a stern paternalistic control. 
There is not a single trait alleged which, where true, does not owe its source and 
continuance to the imposed status itself. 1 

The samf type of vicious circle controls the situation for the poverty- 
stricte&j JtJifegroes outside of cotton agriculture. Poverty itself breeds the 
conditions which perpetuate poverty. 



Chapter 9. Economic Inequality 209 

The vicious circle operates, of course, also in the case of whites. Few 
people have enough imagination to visualize clearly what a poor white 
tenant or common laborer in the South would look like if he had had more 
opportunities at the start. Upper class people in all countries are accus- 
tomed to look down upon people of the laboring class as inherently inferior. 
But in the case of Negroes the deprecation is fortified by the elaborate 
system of racial beliefs, and the discriminations are organized in the social 
institution of rigid caste and not only of flexible social class. 

3. The Value Premises 

The system of social ideals which we have called the American Creed, 
and which serves as the source of the instrumental value premises in this 
study, is less specified and articulate in the economic field than, for 
instance, in regard to civic rights. There is, in regard to economic issues, 
considerable confusion and contradiction even within this higher plane of 
sanctified national ideals and not only — as elsewhere — between those ideals 
and the more opportunistic valuations on lower planes. In public discussion 
opposing economic precepts are often inferred from the American Creed. 
A major part of the ideological battle and of political divisions in the 
American nation, particularly in the decade of the Great Depression, has 
concerned this very conflict of ideals in the economic sphere. "Equality of 
opportunity" has been battling "liberty to run one's business as one 
pleases." 

Meanwhile the battle-front itself has been moving — on the whole 
definitely in favor of equality of opportunity. American economic liberal- 
ism was formerly characterized by "rugged individualism"; it is now 
gradually assimilating ideals of a more social type. There was always the 
vague popular ideal of "an American standard of living," but now a more 
definite and realistic conception is growing out of it. A new kind of "inalien- 
able rights" — economic and social — is gradually taking shape within the 
great political canon of America and is acquiring the respectability of 
common adherence even if not of immediate realization. As an exemplifica- 
tion of the new way of thinking, without assuming that it has advanced to 
the level of a national ideal, we may quote the following statement by the 
National Resources Planning Board, which is an elaboration of President 
Roosevelt's pronouncement of "freedom from want" as one of the human 
liberties: 

We look forward to securing, through planning and cooperative action, a greater 
freedom for the American people. ... In spite of all . . . changes, that great 
manifesto, the Bill of Rights, has stood unshaken 150 years and now to the old 
freedoms we must add new freedoms and restate our objectives in modern terms. . . . 

Any new declaration of personal rights, any translation of freedom into modern 



210 An American Dilemma 

terms applicable to the people of the United States, here and now must include: 

1. The right to work, usefully and creatively through the productive years. 

2. The right to fair pay, adequate to command the necessities and amenities of life 
in exchange for work, ideas, thrift, and other socially valuable service. 

3. The right to adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. 

4. The right to security, with freedom from fear of old age, want, dependency, 
sickness, unemployment, and accident. 

5. The right to live in a system of free enterprise, free from compulsory labor, 
irresponsible private power, arbitrary public authority, and unregulated monop- 
olies. 

9. The right to rest, recreation, and adventure; the opportunity to enjoy life and 
take part in an advancing civilization. 2 

The most convenient way of determining our value premises for the 
economic part of our inquiry is, perhaps, to start from the viewpoint of 
what the American does not want. The ordinary American does not, and 
probably will not within the surveyable future, rake the demand for full 
economic equality in the meaning of a_"classless society" where individual 
incomes and standards of living would become radically leveled off. Such 
an ideal would be contrary to the basic individualism of American thinking. 
It could hardly be realized while upholding the cherished independence of 
the individual. It would nullify the primary responsibility of the individual 
for the economic fate of himself and his family. It would rob the individual 
of his chance to rise to wealth and power. It would thus bury the American 
Dream. It runs contrary to the common belief that it is the individual's 
hope for economic advancement which spurs him to do his utmost and at 
the same time acts as the main driving force behind progress in society. 
The strength of these individualistic ideals is extraordinary in America even 
today, in spite of the important changes of basic conditions which we 
shall presently consider. 

Although there is a great deal of inequality of income and wealth in 
America, the American Creed has always been definitely adverse to class 
divisions and class inequalities. Americans are, indeed, hostile to the very 
concept of class." But the observer soon finds that this hostility is generally 
directed only against a rigid system of privileges and social estates in 
which the individual inherits his status, and not against differences in wealth 
as such. The American demand is for fair opportunity and free scope for 
individual effort. 

In a new nation with rapid social mobility— which is practically always in 
an upward direction as new immigrants always fill the lower ranks — this 
way, of fliiconciling liberty with equality is understandable. Social mobility 
permlttea a relative uniformity of social forms and modes of thinking to 

■See Chapter 31, Sections 1 and a. 



Chapter 9. Economic Inequality an 

exist side by side with a great diversity of economic levels of living. Cul- 
tural heterogeneity within the nation and huge geographical space also 
permitted a measure of anonymity and ignorance of distress. On account 
of the rapid tempo of economic progress and the rapidly growing market, 
economic adversities never did appear so final and hopeless." Land was 
abundant and practically free, and there was at least an avowed national 
ideal of free education for all individuals. 

The principle of noninterference on the part of the State in economic 
life, therefore, did not seem incompatible with the prinicple of equality of 
opportunity. This ideal has had, of course, more influence in America than 
in any comparable European country. There have always been qualifica- 
tions, however, even in this country. In recent times the qualifications 
have been increasing in relative importance, slowly remolding the entire 
configuration of this part of the American Creed. Probably most Americans 
are today prepared to accept a considerable amount of public control for the 
purpose of preserving natural resources. Land and other natural assets 
are today almost entirely occupied and are no longer free. In the whole 
nation, a vivid realization has grown up of the waste and damage done to 
these national assets in reckless exploitation and speculation. 

In regard to the personal resources of the nation, Americans are not as 
willing to have public control. But in the one field of education, they have 
been the pioneering radical interventionists of the world bent upon 
improving the human material by means of proper schooling. The spirit 
of interventionism by education is continually gaining in momentum. It 
early became a self-evident qualification of American economic liberalism. 
Within the last decades this spirit has spread to other fields. Social legisla- 
tion has been instituted to regulate children's and women's work, safety 
measures, and other working conditions in industry, and — later — wages, 
hours and labor organizations. A system of social insurance has gradually 
been taking form. 

The mass unemployment during the depression of the 'thirties — mount- 
ing higher than ever before and higher over a long period than in any other 
country — and the realization that whole regions and occupational groups 
can be brought to destitution through no fault of their own caused the 
development to full consciousness of a sense of public responsibility for these 
things. For the first time America saw itself compelled to organize a large- 
scale system of public relief. For the first time also, America made sub- 
stantial exertions in the field of public housing. The school lunch program, 
the food stamp plan, and the direct distribution of surplus commodities 
represent other activities in the same direction, as do also the attempts to 

"Another factor which prevented economic adversity from appearing to be so hopelen 
«n the belief in the power of private philanthropy to remedy economic distress end the 
obligation on everybody to practice philanthropy. 



212 An American Dilemma 

induce Southern farmers and sharecroppers to have year-round gardens. 
Public health programs were expanded, and the nation is even gradually 
racing the task of organizing the care of the sick in a more socially protec- 
tive way than hitherto. 

Behind this great movement there is an unmistakable trend in social 
outlook and political vaulations. As articulate opinion is gradually taking 
form that there is a minimum standard of living below which no group of 
people in the country should be permitted to fall. This idea, of course, is 
not new in America; it is a development of the spirit of Christian neigh- 
borliness which has been present in the American Creed from its beginning." 
But the emphasis is new. Now it is not only a question of humanitarianism; 
it is a question of national social and economic welfare. Neither the polit- 
ical conflicts raging around the proper means of providing help by public 
measures nor the widespread uncertainty and disagreement concerning the 
actual height of the minimum standard to be protected by those measures 
should conceal the important fact that the American Creed is c/ianging to 
include a decent living standard and a measure of economic security among 
the liberties and rights which are given this highest moral sanction. 

As usual in America, the ideals are running far ahead of the accomplish- 
ments. The new belief that the health, happiness, and efficiency of the 
people can be raised greatly by improved living conditions is already just as 
much in the forefront of public attention in America as in most progressive 
countries in Europe and the British Dominions. Nowhere are so many 
housing investigations carried out to demonstrate the correlation between 
bad housing conditions and juvenile delinquency, tuberculosis, and syphilis 
as in America. 

Contrary to laissez-faire principles, various industries have long been 
given government protection in the United States — most often by means 
of the tariff. The recent development has shifted the motivation from 
"assistance-to-business" terms to "social welfare" terms. This change in 
motivation is not always carried out in the measures actually taken. The 
agricultural policy may be pointed to as an example. If wc except the work 
of the Farm Security Administration, there are only weak attempts to 
administer the public assistance given the farmers in accordance with their 
individual needs; those farmers who have the highest incomes most often 
also get the highest relief benefits from the A.A.A. If the trend does not 
change its course, however, all economic policy is bound to come under the 
orbit of social welfare policy. 

. At the same time, social welfare policy proper— by an increasing stress 
upon the preventive instead of the merely curative aspects — is becoming 
integrated with economic policy. Social welfare policy is hound to become 
looked upon in terms of the economic criterion of national investment.* 
"See Chapter i, Section 5. 



Chapter 9. Economic Inequality 213 

Another change is that of an increasing interest in the distribution of 
income and wealth as such. The rise of taxation to pay for social policy— 
and now also for the War — is forcing public attention to this problem. The 
old idea in public finance that taxation should leave the distribution of 
incomes and wealth between individuals and classes "unchanged" has 
become impractical. There is a strong tendency to expect some leveling 
off of the differences through taxation. It is rationalized by giving a new 
meaning to the old normative formula that taxes should be imposed accord- 
ing to "ability to pay." Similarly, there is a trend away from the attempt 
to construct social welfare policies in such a manner that they would not 
have any influence on the labor market. 

All these trends are gradually decreasing the sanctity of individual 
enterprise, which is slowly coming under public control, although not 
necessarily public ownership. The American public has been critical of the 
huge "monopoly" and the "holding company" for over fifty years. The 
general trend for big business and corporate finance to grow at the expense 
of small business — which will be accentuated by the present War — has made 
Americans more and more willing to have government restrictions on 
private business. Even if big business still utilizes the old individualistic 
formulas for its purposes, the observer feels that its success in this is 
declining. 4 Private property in business itself seems less holy to the average 
American when it is no longer connected to individually-run enterprise and 
when large-scale interferences are necessitated by international crises and 
when taxation is mounting and its burden must be placed somewhere. In 
agriculture, the increase in tenancy and migratory labor and the decline of 
the independent farmer are having a similar effect. 

In all these respects the American Creed is still in flux. The change has, 
however, only strengthened the basic demand for equality of opportunity. 
But it is becoming apparent to most Americans that conditions have so 
changed that this demand will require more concerted action and even 
state intervention to become realized. It is commonly observed that the 
closing of the frontier and the constriction of immigration tend to stratify 
the social order into a more rigid class structure. Occupational mobility and 
social climbing are tending to become possible mainly by means of educa- 
tion, and a significant shift now takes two generations instead of one. The 
self-made man is a vanishing social phenomenon. 

The perfection of the national educational system, while increasingly 
opening up fairer chances for individuals starting out even from the lowest 
social stratum, is at the same time restricting opportunities to move ancUffr ; 
rise for individuals who have passed youth without having had the benefit 
of education and special training. If they are in the laboring or faring 
classes they will, in all probability, have to stay there. As this situation is 
becoming realized among the masses, and as cultural heterogeneity is 



216 An American Dilemma 

white man's burden." "Negroes couldn't live at all without the aid and 
guidance of the white people," it is said. "What little they have, they have 
got from the whites." Their own sacrifices apparently do not count. Their 
poverty itself becomes, in fact, the basis of the rationalization. "The whites 
give them all the jobs." "Actually, they live on us white people." "They 
couldn't sustain themselves a day if we gave them up." "The whites pay all 
the taxes, or don't they?" 

Then, too, economic inequality "has to" be maintained, for it is the 
barrier against "social equality":" "you wouldn't let your sister or 
daughter marry a nigger." The sister or the daughter comes inevitably even 
into the economic discussion. 

This is the ordinary Southerner explaining the matter in plain words to 
the inquisitive stranger. He is serious and, in a sense, honest. We must 
remember that the whole white Southern culture, generation after genera- 
tion, is laboring to convince itself that there is no conflict between the 
equalitarianism in the American Creed and the economic discrimination 
against Negroes. And they can never get enough good reasons for their 
behavior. They pile arguments one on top of the other. 7 

The most important intellectual bridge between the American Creed 
and actual practices in the economic sphere is, of course, the complex of 
racial beliefs discussed above in Chapter 4. Their import in the economic 
sphere is that the Negro is looked upon as inherently inferior as a worker 
and as a consumer. God himself has made the Negro to be only a servant 
or a laborer employed for menial, dirty, heavy and disagreeable work. 
And, since practically all such work is badly paid, it is God's will that the 
Negro should have a low income. Also, any attempt to raise Negro incomes 
goes against "the laws of supply and demand" which are part of the order 
of nature. The Negro is bad as a consumer too. "If you give him more pay, 
he will stop working"; he will "drink it up and start a row." "Higher 
wages will make the nigger lazy and morally degraded." This last belief 
particularly, but also many of the others, bears a striking similarity to ideas 
about the laboring class as a whole developed in a systematic form by 
European mercantilist writers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. b 

' See Part VII. 

*Sce Eli F. Heckscher, Mercantilism (translated by Mendel Shapiro, 1935) first pub- 
lished, 1931). 

The whole ideology displays a static, precapitalist^ tendency. When white Southerners 
object to a conspicuous rise in Negro levels of living, they act much like the upper classes 
in most European countries centuries ago when they frowned upon lower class people's 
rise to higher levels of consumption, and even instituted legal regulations forbidding the 
humbler estates to have servants, to own certain types of dress, and so on. An American 
Negro in a luxurious car draws unfavorable comment, and so — in previous times — did a 
Swedish maid who "dressed like a lady." In the static pre-competitivc society, tradition was 
in itself a value. 



Chapter. 9. Economic Inequality 217 

On the other hand, it is said that the Negro is accustomed to live on 
little. "It is a marvel how these niggers can get along on almost nothing." 
This would actually imply that the Negro is a careful consumer — but the 
conclusion is never expressed that way. 

This touches upon the second main logical bridge between equalitarianism 
and economic discrimination: the cost-of-living and the standard-of -living 
arguments. The first of these two popular theories is — again quoting the 
already mentioned university publication — presented in the following way: 

. . . observation alone would suggest to the unbiased observer that the negro teacher 
will be able to purchase within her society a relatively higher standard of living than 
the white teacher will be able to secure with the same amount of money. 8 

Statistical investigations are referred to which seem to indicate the remark- 
able fact that Negro teachers with smaller salaries spend less money for 
various items of the cost-of-living budget than better paid white teachers. 

Scientifically, this is nonsense, of course. A cost-of-living comparison has 
no meaning except when comparing costs for equivalent budget items and 
total budgets. That poor people get along on less has nothing to do with 
cost of living. They must get along on less, even when cost of living, in the 
proper sense, is higher for them. We have quoted this statement only to 
illustrate a popular theory which, though it now seldom gets into respectable 
print, is widespread in the South and constitutes a most important rationali- 
zation among even educated people." 

Sometimes an attempt is made to give the theory greater logical con- 
sistency by inserting the idea that "Negroes don't have the same demands 
on life as white people." "They are satisfied with less." It should be 
remembered that equal pay for equal work to women has been objected 
to by a similar popular theory in all countries. The underlying assumption 
of a racial differential in psychic wants is, of course, entirely unfounded. 

Others are heard expressing the theory of lower demands on life in the 
following way: "Their cost of living is obviously lower since they have 
a lower standard of living." Lower wages and lower relief grants are 
generally motivated in this way. A great number of more or less con- 
fused notions are held together in such expressions. Having "a low standard 
of living," for one thing, means to many to be a "no-account" person, a 
worthless individual. It also means that, being able to live as they are 

* In relief work the popular theory of the Negroes' "lower cost of living" as a motivation 
for discrimination is often given in terms more directly and more honestly related to 
actual customs and social policy. Some social workers in the Deep South explained to 
Richard Sterner that the appropriation did not suffice for the full "budgetary deficiency" of 
the clients, for they had to give each one just the barest minimum they could get along with. 
Rents usually were lower for Negro clients, since they lived in the Negro sections. It was 
readily admitted that this was so because housing was poorer in Negro neighborhoods. But 
even so, money had to be saved on the small appropriations wherever possible. 



21 8 An American Dilemma 

living, Negroes have a peculiar ability to manage a household. Oblique 
statements to this effect are often made when discussing this type of popular 
theory; one social worker in a responsible position came out straight with 
the argument. It probably also means that people accustomed to suffer from 
want do not feel poverty so much as if they had seen better days. This, of 
course, is a much more common popular theory: all over the world the 
"people who have seen better days" are believed to be worse off than other 
paupers. In the case of the Negro there is the additional belief that he has 
a particularly great capacity to be happy in his poverty. He is a child of 
nature. And he has his religion. He can sing and dance. 

The rationalizations amount to this: since Negroes are poor and always 
have been poor, they are inferior and should be kept inferior. Then they are 
no trouble but rather a convenience. It is seldom expressed so bluntly. 
Expressions like "standard of living" and "cost of living" are employed 
because they have a flavor of scientific objectivity. They avoid hard think- 
ing. They enable one to stand for the status quo in economic discrimination 
without flagrantly exposing oneself even to oneself. For their purpose 
they represent nearly perfect popular theories of the rationalization type. 
These are only a few examples to illustrate the way of thinking utilized 
in the South of today to justify economic discrimination. In the North there 
exists practically nothing of these piled-up, criss-crossing, elaborated 
theories. In matters of discrimination the ordinary Northerner is unsophis- 
ticated. Most Northerners, even in those parts of the country where there 
are Negroes, know only vaguely about the economic discriminations Ne- 
groes are meeting in their communities. They are often uninformed of the 
real import of those discriminations in which they themselves participate. 

It is generally held in the North .that such discrimination is wrong. 
When the matter occasionally comes up for public discussion in newspapers 
and legislatures, it is assumed that discrimination shall be condemned. 
Some states have, as we shall see, made laws in order to curb discrimination 
in the labor market. The present writer is inclined to believe that, as far 
as such discriminations are concerned, a large majority of Northerners 
would come out for full equality if they had to vote on the issue and did 
not think of their own occupations. Northern states and municipalities, on 
the whole, hold to the principle of nondiscrimination in relief, and this is 
probably not only due to considerations of the Negro vote but also in 
obedience to the American Creed. 

As we shall find, however, there is plenty of economic discrimination in 
the North. In situations where it is acute and where it becomes conscious, 
the average Northerner will occasionally refer to the interest of himself 
and his group in keeping away Negro competition — a thing which seldom 
or neitr happens in the South. On this point he might be cruder. His 
rationalizations will seldom go much further than presenting the beliefs 



Chapter 9. Economic Inequality 219 

in the Negroes' racial inferiority and the observation that he "just does 
not want to have Negroes around" or that he "dislikes Negroes." Southern- 
born white people in the North usually keep more of the complete defense 
system and also spread it in their new surroundings. Even in the North it 
happens occasionally, when economic discrimination is discussed, that the 
"social equality" issue and the marriage matter are brought up, though 
with much less emotion. 

A main difference between the types of rationalization in the two regions 
seems to be that the Southerners still think of Negroes as their former 
slaves, while the association with slavery is notably absent from the minds 
of Northerners. To Northerners, the Negro is, more abstractly, just an 
alien, felt to be particularly difficult to assimilate into the life of the com- 
munity. But in the South, the master-model of economic discrimination — 
slavery — is still a living force as a memory and a tradition. 



CHAPTER 10 



THE TRADITION OF SLAVERY* 



i. Economic Exploitation 

To the ante-bellum South slavery was, of course, a tremendous moral 
burden. Human slavery, in spite of all rationalization, was irreconcilably 
contrary to the American Creed. The South had to stand before all the 
world as the land which, in modern times, had developed and perfected 
that ignominious old institution. 

But, in a sense, exploitation of Negro labor was, perhaps, a less embar- 
rassing moral conflict to the ante-bellum planter than to his peer today. 
Slavery then was a lawful institution, a part of the legal order, and the ex- 
ploitation of black labor was sanctioned and regulated. Today the exploita- 
tion is, to a considerable degree, dependent upon the availability of extra- 
legal devices of various kinds. 

Moreover, slavery was justified in a political theory which had intel- 
lectual respectability, b which was expounded in speeches, articles, and 
learned treatises by the region's famous statesmen, churchmen and scholars. 
The popular theories defending caste exploitation today, which have been 
exemplified in the previous chapter,, bear, on the contrary, the mark of 
intellectual poverty. Even a reactionary Southern congressman will abstain 
from developing the detailed structure of those theories in the national 
capital. Hardly a conservative newspaper in the South will expound them 
clearly. The liberal newspapers actually condemn them, at least in general 
terms. The change in the moral situation, brought about in less than three 
generations, is tremendous. 

If we look to actual practices, however, we find that the tradition 
of human exploitation — and now not only of Negroes — has remained 
From slavery as a chief determinant of the entire structure of the 
South's economic life. The observer is told that a great number of 
Fortunes are achieved by petty exploitation of the poor, a practice some- 
times belonging to the type referred to in the region as "mattressing the 
niggers.? As contrasted with the North, there is less investment, less 
market expansion, less inventiveness and less risk-taking. Sweatshop labor 

'"^ift chapter i» the first of a set of three on Southern agriculture. 
*flg Chapter zo, Section 4. 

>'& 
, ,-* aao 



Chapter io. The Tradition of Silvery 221 

conditions are more common. Even the middle strata of the Southern 
white population depend on exploitation of labor. 

The white workers, in their turn, often seek to defend themselves against 
the potential or actual competition from Negro labor by extra-economic 
devices. They themselves are often held in paternalistic economic and 
moral dependence by their employers. As is often pointed out, the South 
as a region is competing against the North by its recourse to low-paid docile 
white and Negro labor. It has actually advertised this as an opportunity 
for outside capitalists. ". . . the South remains largely a colonial economy," 1 
complains Vance, one of the region's outstanding social scientists, and 
explains: "The advance of industry into this region then partakes of the 
nature, let us say it in all kindliness, of exploiting the natural resources 
and labor supply . . ." 2 

This pattern of common exploitation — where everyone is the oppressor 
of the one under him, where the Negroes are at the bottom and where big 
landlords, merchants, and Northern capital are at the top — is obviously the 
extension into the present of a modified slavery system. As Vance points 
out, 8 the "geography and biology" of the region are not to be blamed for 
its economic position, but it is history that has molded the type of organiza- 
tion. 

The South tries to blame its economic backwardness on the differential 
in freight rates, the national tariff system, and other economic irregulari- 
ties, but these are, in the final analysis, rather minor matters} they are 
hardly more than symptoms of poverty and political dependence. The 
destruction of material and human values during the Civil War and its 
aftermath was large, but, by itself, it does not explain the present situation. 
About three generations have lapsed since then, and we know from other 
parts of the world how rapidly such wounds can be healed. The same is 
true about the head start in industrialization which the North had: it could 
have been overcome. To complain about the lack of capital in the region 
is rather to beg the question. In modern dynamic economics we do not look 
upon capital so much as a prerequisite for production but rather as a result 
of production. The investment in the South of Northern capital has not 
been detrimental but is, on the contrary, a reason why the South is not 
more backward economically than it is. 

The explanation for the economic backwardness of the South must be 
carried down to the rigid institutional structure of the economic life of the 
region which, historically, is derived from slavery and, psychologically, is 
rooted in the minds of the people. 

2. Slavery and Caste 

In some respects, the remnants of the outmoded slavery system of the 
Old South — which we call caste — have been even more important impedi- 



222 An American Dilemma 

raents to progress and economic adjustment than slavery itself could ever 
have been. It is often argued — and in the main rightly — that the static, 
noncompetitive slavery institution and the quasi-feudal plantation system 
did not fit into modern American capitalism. The economic interpretation 
of the Civil War makes much of this thought. To quote a typical remark: 
"Slavery stands against our technical trends which demand a mobile, 
replaceable labor supply and which generate useful energy in individuals by 
offering them hope of advancement." 4 

I But in certain respects the surviving caste system shows even more 
jresistance to change than did slavery. The main economic significance of 
/slavery was that the employer really owned his labor. Because of that he also 
' had a vested interest in its most profitable utilization. This fundamental 
i unity of interest between capital and labor — as labor was capital — constituted 
a main point in the pro-slavery theory." 

It is true that the slaves were robbed of their freedom to move on their 
own initiative. But as factors of production, they were moved by the 
economic interest of their owners to their "most advantageous uses." Before 
Emancipation the Negroes took part in the westward movement of produc- 
tion and people. From this point of view the fight of the South to widen 
the realm of slavery in the United States prior to the Civil War was also 
a fight to bring Negro labor to those places where it could be put to most 
advantageous use. After Emancipation the freedmen could move individu- 
ally in the regions where they were already settled. But they were, as a 
group, practically blocked from entering new rural territory in the South- 
west. Only the cities in the South and the North left them an outlet for 
migration." 

Before Emancipation it was in the interest of the slave owners to use 
Negro slaves wherever it was profitable in handicraft and manufacture.' 
After Emancipation no such proprietary interest protected Negro laborers 
from the desire of white workers to squeeze them out of skilled employ- 
ment. They were gradually driven out and pushed down into the "Negro 
jobs," a category which has been more and more narrowly defined. 

There is no doubt that, compared with the contemporary caste system, 
slavery showed a superior capacity to effectuate economic adjustment, even 
if the slave owners and not the slaves reaped the profits. Even to many 
Negroes themselves slavery, again in certain limited respects, was a more 
advantageous economic arrangement than the precarious caste status into 
which they were thrown by Emancipation. To the owners, slaves represented 
valuable property. The prices, of slaves tended to rise until the Civil War. 8 
The slave owner had the same rational economic interest in caring for the 

•See Chapter 20, Section 4. 
k See Chapter 8. 
"See Chapter ij. 



Chapter io. The Tradition o* Slavery 243 

material welfare of the slaves, their health and productive standards, as any 
good proprietor engaged in animal husbandry. As the slaves were his own 
Negroes in a literal sense, he could develop the same pride, attachment, and 
even affection, which the devoted proprietor-manager is likely to feel 
toward his own livestock. 

The apologetic literature of the South gave much stress to examples of 
such pate, nalistic idyls. Stories of the kindly relations between masters and 
slaves are always particularly touching, both because they stand out against 
the background of the intrinsic cruelty and arbitrariness implied in a system 
under which some human beings were owned by others and because they 
represent this unreserved feeling of kindness which we can hardly feel 
toward other objects than those which are absolutely under our dominance 
as are our domestic animals. It is commonly asserted that the slaves fared 
particularly well in the slave-breeding and slave-exporting states of the 
Upper South, and that they there also showed themselves to be "happy" 
in spite of the regularly recurring necessity of leaving near relatives when 
they were sold into the Deep South." 

The rise in sickness and death rates which seems to have occurred follow- 
ing the Civil War" bears out the general opinion that the first economic 
effect of freedom was a decreased level of living for the Negro people. 
The implication would be that, since the plantation owners lost their 
property interest in upholding a level of living which preserved the capital 
value of the Negro, this level dropped below the subsistence standard. 

Important for the development of the new labor structure into which 
the freed Negro slaves were pressed and which has determined their 
economic fate and, to a considerable extent, the economic history of the 
South until this day was the fact that Emancipation was not related to any 
change of mind on the part of white people. The reform was thrust upon 
the South and never got its sanction. It became rather a matter of sectional 
pride to resist the change to the utmost. When it became apparent that 
the North could not, or would not, press its demands with force, the white 
South found a revenge for the defeat in the War by undoing as far as 
possible the national legislation to protect the freedman. This negative 
direction of Southern political will is still, three generations after the Civil 
War, apparent to the observer. The South did not want — and to a great 
extent still does not want — the Negro to be successful as a freedman. White 
Southerners are prepared to abstain from many liberties and to sacrifice 
many advantages for the purpose of withholding them from the Negroes. b 

To the whites the temporary Negro vagrancy that followed the Civil 
War 7 must have appeared as a confirmation of their dominant conviction, 
that most Negroes are inherently incapable of persistent work, unless kept 

' See Chapter 6, Section at. 
"See Chapter 10. 



244 An American Dilemma 

under severe discipline. To blame it on the inherent racial character of the 
Negro was the most convenient way out. It did not involve any new and 
strenuous thinking. It offered an escape from the difficult task of having to 
introduce a basically new pattern of dealing with labor. A well-entrenched 
system of slavery has probably nowhere been completely abolished by one 
stroke. The plantation South was ruined through the War, and the Eman- 
cipation forced upon it — ruined, it was felt, because of the Negro. Under 
such circumstances it was likely that the South would try to build up a 
labor organization as similar as possible to slavery. 

As the years passed, the old plantation system reestablished itself. Negro 
labor was on hand in spite of much short-distance wandering. A consider- 
able portion of the old plantation owners were killed in the War, went 
bankrupt or left the land for other reasons. Much land became forfeit 
to creditors and tax authorities. But, as cotton prices soared, it was profitable 
for anybody who could lay hands on cash to buy land and hire Negro 
labor. After some attempts with a wage system, sharecropping became the 
labor pattern into which the Negroes and, later on, poor whites were 



3. The Land Problem 

An economic reconstruction of the South which would have succeeded in ( 
opening the road to economic independence for the ex-slaves would have 
had to include, besides emancipation, suffrage and full civil liberties: rapid 
education of the freedmen, abandonment of discrimination, land reform. 
Some measures in all these directions were actually taken. 

Concerning land reform, there were spurious attempts to break up the 
plantation system and to distribute the land to the cultivators. There were 
some few statesmen who grasped the importance of such a basic econoihic 
reform for the Reconstruction program. Thaddeus Stevens and Charles 
Sumner saw it. 8 But their strivings came to practically nothing. A small 
amount of abandoned and confiscated land was turned over to Negroes by 
the Union Army, by Union administrators of various kinds and, later, by 
the Freedmen's Bureau. But the latter institution had to use most of its 
small appropriations — totaling less than $18,000,000 — for general relief 
or for educational purposes. Besides, it was allowed to operate for only 
seven years (1 865-1 872). 10 

To have given each one of the million Negro families a forty-acre free- 
hold would have made a basis of real democracy in the United States that 
might easily have transformed the modern world, 11 reflects Du Bois: This 
may be tjftte enough, but it should be kept clear that the historical setting 
would Itardly have allowed it. From an historical point of view it is even 
more" Utopian to think through anew the Reconstruction problem in terms 
of modern social engineering. It is not entirely useless, however, as surh 



Chapter io. The Tradition of Slavery 225 

an intellectual experiment defines our norms and gives perspective to what 
actually took place. 

After the Civil War, the overwhelming majority of Negroes were 
concentrated in Southern agriculture. Consequently, the greatest problem 
was what to do with these great masses of Southern Negroes, most of 
whom were former slaves. Even the Negroes not in Southern agriculture 
were influenced by the patterns set, since the Northern Negro laborer was 
recruited, in later decades, from the rural South. 

A rational economic reform of Southern plantation economy, which 
would preserve individual property rights to the maximum (always of 
greatest importance for a smooth readjustment) but also utilize the revolu- 
tionary situation for carrying into effect the aims of Reconstruction, could 
have included the following points besides freeing the slaves: 

. 1. Remunerating fully the slave owners out of federal funds. 
«. 2. Expropriating the slave plantations or a larger part of them and remunerating 

fully their owners out of federal funds. 
■ 3. Distributing this land in small parcels to those cultivators who wished it, against 

mortgaged claims on their new property, and requiring them to pay for the land 

in yearly installments over a long period. 

4. Creating for a transition period a rather close public supervision over the freed- 
men and also certain safeguards against their disposition of their property; also 
instituting an effective vocational education of Negro farmers, somewhat along 
the lines of the F.S.A. of the 1930's. 

5. Instituting a scheme of taxation to pay off the former slave- and land-owners and, 
perhaps, to allow repayments for the land by the new owners to be kept down 
under the actual expropriation costs. 

6. As a partial alternative, in order to relieve the Negro population pressure in the 
South and in order to help keep down the scope of the reconstruction program: 
helping Negroes take part in the westward rural migration. 

The cheapness of land in America would have been a factor making a 
land reform easier to execute than in most other countries where it has been 
successfully carried out when abolishing serfdom. Even if the burden on 
the public finances were reckoned as economic costs — which, of course, is a 
totally wrong way of calculating costs in a national economy, as they are 
meant to be profitable investments in economic progress — those costs 
would have been trifling compared with what Reconstruction and Restora- 
tion, not to speak of the Civil War, actually cost the nation. What hap- 
pened, however, was that the slaves were freed without any remuneration 
being paid their former owners j and that, with few exceptions, the f reed- 
men were not given access to land. 

The explanation of why there was no land reform in America to comple- 
ment the emancipation of the slaves, during the short period when the 
South did not have much of a say and had not yet deeply fortified its own 



aa6 An American Dilemma 

mental resistance, is usually given in terms of the reluctance of the North 
to intrude upon the rights and interests of property ownership. But the 
North obviously did not hesitate to expropriate the slave property* and let 
it loose on the region without any provision for its economic maintenance. 
The owners must have felt this to be a grave injustice inflicted upon them, 
and even Northerners must have reflected that this property was acquired 
under the law and in a system of rights where it was exchangeable for other 
property. The dominating North defended its action by asserting that 
slave property was unjust, which is a pretty revolutionary doctrine from the 
property point of view. Undoubtedly property in land stood in another 
category to the Northerners. But the Union authorities occasionally dealt 
rather harshly also with land property in the South during Reconstruction, 
even if they did not often give it away to the Negroes. 

A more important reason why there was no land reform was, in all 
probability, consideration of a narrow financial sort. The Civil War had 
left the Union with a great national debt. The North — which refused to 
let the federal government assume the war debts of the Confederate states 
and to pay for the expropriated slave property — did not feel inclined to 
carry the fiscal costs for a land reform on the national budget. 

Under these circumstances, the road to the national compromise of the 
1870's was actually well paved from the beginning. Except for a Republican 
party interest in the Negro vote and the general craving for revenge against 
the Southern rebels, there seems not to have been much interest among 
most Northerners in helping the Negroes. b This was particularly so since 
the North now acquired a frame of mind where the puritan social idealism 
of ante-bellum days, of which abolitionism had only been one of the 
expressions, succumbed for decades to the acceptance of industrialization, 
expansion, mechanical progress and considerable political corruption. 

The white South was, as has been said, for the most part violently 
against any constructive program framed to raise the Negro freedmen to 
economic independence. 12 A liberal Southerner of the older generation with 
great political experience, Josephus Daniels, tells this story: 

When I was eighteen I recall asking an old Confederate, "What was so bad about 
the promise to give every Negro head of a family forty acres and a mule? Wouldn't 
that have been better help than to turn the ignorant ex-slave without a dollar over 
to the mercy of Republican politicians, white and black, who made political slaves 

* Only the slave owners of the District of Columbia were compensated for the price of 
their slaves. See William H. Williams, "The Negro in the District of Columbia During 
Reconstruction." Tht Howard Review (June, 1924), p. to*. 

* There were many exceptions, however, and the compromise was a gradual development. 
Not only wai there a small remnant of the Abolition movement, but even a man like James 
6. Blaine Jfaade a vigorous plea in 1879 that the Negro be given full rights and oppor- 
tunities'. 't$ympo*ium: "Ought the Negro to be Disfranchised," North American Review 
[March, 1879].) 



Chapter io. The Tradition of Slavery 227 

of them? And if each Negro had been given a piece of land, for which Uncle Sam 
would pay the Southern owner, wouldn't it hare been better for the white man and 
the Negro?" 

The old man looked at me as if I were a curious individual to be raising such an 
unheard-of question. "No," he said emphatically, "for it would have made the 
Negro 'uppity,' and, besides, they don't know enough to farm without direction, and 
smart white men and Negroes would have gotten the land away from them, and 
they'd have been worse off than ever. . . . The real reason," pursued the old man, 
"why it wouldn't do, is that we are having a hard time now keeping the nigger in 
his place, and if he were a landowner he'd think he was a bigger man than old 
Grant, and there would be no living with him in the Black District. . . . Who'd 
work the land if the niggers had farms of their own . . . ? " ls 

In spite of the lack of a land reform and against heavy odds in practically 
all respects, there was a slow rise of Negro small-scale landownership in 
the South until the beginning of this century. But the proportion of Negroes 
owning their own land has never been large, and it has been declining for 
the last 30 or 40 years.* 

4. The Tenancy Problem 

But even if a rational land reform was not carried out, some of the goals 
could have been reached by a legal regulation of the tenancy system, aimed 
not only at protecting the tenants as well as the landlords, but also at 
preserving the soil and raising the economic efficiency of Southern agricul- 
ture. There were individuals who saw clearly what was at stake. The 
Freedmen's Bureau was futilely active in regulating labor and tenant 
contracts. But it had neither the political backing nor the clear purpose 
necessary to accomplish much of lasting importance. And it was not given 
the time or the resources. Hence, a most inequitable type of tenancy fixed 
itself upon the South. 

A survey of the legal organization of landlord-tenant relations in 
Southern states today reveals a system which has no real parallel in other 
advanced parts of the Western world. There are a great number of state 
laws — some of the most extravagant character — to defend the planters' 
interests. There are few laws which defend the tenants' interests. The 
tenant does not have any right to permanency of tenure on the land he 
cultivates. He seldom has any right to reimbursement for permanent 
improvements which he makes on the land. 14 The tenant is not secured in 
his contractual rights. Woofter, writing in the 'twenties, makes the rather 
obvious point that "passage of laws to the effect that no tenant contract is 
enforceable unless it is written would . . . help," but no such laws have 
been passed. 16 

On the other hand, there is, as we said, elaborate legislation to protect 

'See Chapter 11, Section 6. 



228 An American Dilemma 

the planters' interests against the tenants. Reference should here be made 
to the Black Codes, instituted by eight Southern states immediately after 
the Civil War (i 865-1 867) before Congressional Reconstruction. Mangum 
characterizes these laws as follows: 

These Black Codes gave the Negro population very little freedom. The colored 
man was free in name only in many cases. The apprentice, vagrancy, and other 
provisions of these statutes forced the Negro into situations where he would be 
under the uncontrolled supervision of his former master or other white men who 
were ready and willing to exploit his labor. 10 

The historical background for these laws was the need for some kind of 
regulations of the freedmen's labor conditions, the Southerners' disbelief 
in free labor, and their intention of restoring as far as possible the ante- 
bellum relation between the two races." The Black Codes were among the 
factors which stimulated Congress to carry out Reconstruction along more 
drastic lines. These laws were abolished, but after Reconstruction they 
made their reappearance in various forms. 

One type is the various kinds of lien laws. 18 They are sometimes 
strengthened by laws making a tenant a criminal when he is deemed 
negligent in his duties. 10 During the 'thirties, federal agencies have been 
more active in stamping out debt peonage" by bringing up test cases in 
the federal courts. Several laws of this or other kinds have been held uncon- 
stitutional by state and federal courts. 20 Nevertheless, debt peonage still 
exists. b 

Another present-day vestige of the Black Codes is the vagrancy laws. c 
They make it possible for employers to let the police act as labor agents. 
Apprehended vagrants are made to choose between accepting the employ- 
ment offered them and being sentenced by the court to forced labor in 
chain-gangs. The literature is filled with descriptions of how the police 
and the courts were utilized to recruit forced labor. Convicts were hired 
out, sometimes in chain-gangs, to planters, mine owners, road contractors 
and turpentine farmers. There were plantations and other enterprises that 
depended almost entirely on convict labor. In recent years this practice has 
been practically stamped out. d 

More difficult to stamp out has been the practice of white employers 
getting Negro tenants or laborers by paying their fines at court. It is parallel 

* The term "peonage" means a condition of compulsory service based on the indebtedness 
of the laborer to his employer; see Mangum, of. cit., pp. 164 ff. 

b See Chapter 11, Section 8; Appendix 6, Section 4; and Chapter 26, Section 2; also, 
Mangum, of. eft., p. 172. 

* The very concept "vagrancy" is a dangerous one as it has not the same definiteness as 
other crimes. In all countries there have at times been attempts to press poor people into 
peonage by such laws. 

'See Chapter 26, Section 2. 



Chapter io. The Tradition of Slavery 429 

to the transaction whereby an employer pays a Negro's debt to a former 
employer or to a merchant and, by taking over the debt, also takes over 
the worker. The police and the courts have often been active in "creating" 
the debts by exacting fines for petty offenses or upon flimsy accusations. 
Sometimes a number of Negroes are "rounded up" and given out for the 
price of the fines to interested employers who are short of labor. More 
often the police and the courts only act to enforce an existing situation of 
debt peonage. 21 

The background of the difficulty of stamping out peonage is the fact 
that the South has a weak legal tradition. As we shall show in Part VI, 
the police and the courts have traditionally been active as agents for white 
employers. Traditionally the planters and other whites have little scruple 
against taking the law into their own hands. Threats, whippings, and even 
more serious forms of violence have been customary caste sanctions utilized 
to maintain a strict discipline over Negro labor which are seldom employed 
against white labor. The few laws in favor of the Negro tenant have not 
often been enforced against the white planter. 

The legal order of the South is, however, gradually becoming strength- 
ened. But, even if we assume full enforcement — which is far from being 
reached as yet, particularly in the Black Belt where most of the plantations 
and the rural Negroes are concentrated — the entire system of laws regu- 
lating the relations between employers and employees in Southern agricul- 
ture is heavily stacked against the latter. 



CHAPTER II 

THE SOUTHERN PLANTATION ECONOMY AND THE 

NEGRO FARMER 

^■■■Mll.MMIlMlMWlllll.MllMim t ■ ■■■■■■■11W1.1MM1. MIHIIIIimiMIIHIHHIIIIHWIIIIIIIIIIUIIIIIIMIIII 

I. Southern Agriculture as a Problem 

The main facts of rural Southern poverty and the distress of the rural 
Negro people in the South have been well-known for a long time. The 
plantation-tenant system is one of America's "public scandals."" Even 
before the Civil War there were many Southern patriots who saw some of 
the detrimental factors working to undermine the welfare of the region. 
When Hinton Helper, on the eve of the Civil War, came out with his 
blunt exposure of the ante-bellum myth of how efficient and perfectly 
balanced the Southern economic system was, he could quote passages in 
support of his position like the following by C. C. Clay: 

I can show you, with sorrow, in the olden portions of Alabama, and in my native 
county of Madison, the sad memorials of the artless and exhausting culture of cotton. 
Our small planters, after taking the cream off their lands, unable to restore them 
by rest, manures, or otherwise, are going further West and South, in search of other 
virgin land, which they may and will despoil and impoverish in like manner. Our 
wealthier planters, with greater means and no more skill, are buying out their poorer 
neighbors. ... In traversing that county [Madison County], one will discover 
numerous farm houses, once the abode of industrious and intelligent freemen, now 
occupied by slaves, or tenantless. . . . Indeed, a county in its infancy, where fifty 
years ago scarce a forest tree had been felled by the axe of the pioneer, is already 
exhibiting the painful signs of senility and decay, apparent in Virginia and the 
Carol inas. 1 

At least from the 'eighties, when Henry Grady coined the promising 
phrase "the New South," the propagation of an agricultural reform pro- 
gram has belonged to the established Southern traditions. Like the dedica- 
tion "the New South," this program has in fundamentally unchanged form 
been taken aver by generation after generation of public-spirited Southern 
liberals aifed is today one of their dearest aims. In fact, the same remedies 
of encouraging independent land ownership, crop diversification, and soil 
conservation have been recommended through the decades by unanimous 

'See Appendix 2, Section i. 

•30 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 231 

expert opinion. In a sense, this is one of the most discouraging things about 
Southern agriculture, that the faults have been recognized and the remedial 
plans worked out for such a long time without much being accomplished — 
at least up to the Great Depression and the New Deal. 

The revolutionary changes within the last decade — and particularly the 
effects of the A.A.A. on rural Negroes — are less well-known. We shall 
leave those latest developments to be analyzed in the next chapter. In this 
chapter we want, mainly by way of presenting some illustrative quantitative 
relations, to give a short survey of the familiar topics: the plight of the 
rural South and of the Negro farmer. 

2. Over-population and Soil Erosion 

Rural farm areas in the United States in 1 940 had a population of about 
30,000,000. More than half of this population, or over 16,000,000, was in 
the South} and over one-fourth of the Southern farm population (around 
4,500,000) was Negro. But the South had only 25 per cent of all land in 
farms in the country, and the value of this farm land, as well as of the 
buildings on the land, the farm implements and machinery, constituted but 
28 per cent of the national figure. Only 8 per cent of the Southern farm 
land was operated by Negro owners, tenants, and croppers, and their share 
in the value of Southern farms, buildings, implements, and machinery was 
equally small. 2 For the rest, Negroes participated in the Southern agricul- 
tural economy only as wage laborers, at low wages and usually without the 
assurance of year-round employment. 

The import of these broad facts is as simple as it is significant. They are 
behind all the rural poverty of the South. The agricultural South is over- 
populated," and this over-population affects Negroes much more than 
whites. This applies particularly to the Old South, including the Delta 
district, which contains the main concentration of Negroes. In this Black 
Belt the over-population has — on the whole — been steadily increasing. 
"Since i860 the amount of land in southeastern farms has remained station- 
ary, new lands being cleared about as rapidly as old land was exhausted," 3 
while the number of male agricultural workers in the same area rose from 
around 1,132,000 in i860 to 2,102,000 in 1930. 4 

A cultural heritage from times of pioneering, colonization, and slavery 
makes the conditions even worse than can be visualized by the ratio of 
population to land alone. The early colonists and the later land speculators 
did not have to economize in their use of the land. To the ante-bellum 

* It is true that countries like Denmark have a much higher population density in their 
agricultural areas but, nevertheless, preserve a much higher living level. But both objec- 
-ive market conditions and the rural culture are incomparably more favorable than they 
can be, in the surveyable future, in Southern agriculture. Our term "over-population" ha* 
the pragmatic meaning indicated by this observation. 



232 An American Dilemma 

plantation owners, it was the slaves that represented the main capital — not 
the land. This set a pattern also for other Southern farmers. To become 
rich from the land was to become a plantation owner and a slave owner — 
not to care for the soil. This tradition has continued until the present time. 
In the fall of 1938 the writer traveled for two days through a beautiful 
forest in Tennessee. The woods were burning everywhere. The smoke 
often made driving difficult. Local newspapers told about small organized 
forces which were out to fight the fires. From the highways they were 
nowhere to be seen. There were plenty of people around in several places, 
but few, if any, seemed to care much about the fires. 

Experiences like this make it possible, for even the stranger, to under- 
stand the psychology of sod erosion, soil mining, and "selling the soil in 
annual installments." 8 A sample study made in 1933 suggested that one- 
third of the Southern land was eroded and that at least half of all eroded 
land in the country was in the South.* 

It is generally assumed that the soil in the South originally had a rela- 
tively high fertility. 7 "The South was potentially a section of varied and 
rich agriculture," writes Woofter. "It could have become fully as diver- 
sified as France. The reasons why it did not are historical and economic 
rather than physical." 8 The soil is usually light, and there is heavy rainfall 
in most parts of the region. The traditional concentration upon cash crops 
such as cotton and other plants, which fail to bind the. top soil and rapidly 
deplete fertility — without a rational scheme of crop rotation or other 
preventive measures — is a chief causal factor behind soil erosion. The high 
rate of tenancy, leaving the immediate care of the land to people who are 
not only utterly dependent and ignorant but also lack an individual eco- 
nomic interest in maintaining the productivity of the land, is another cause. 
In the final analysis soil erosion is more a consequence than merely an 
aspect of protracted rural over-population. 
Lange summarizes: 

We may therefore conclude as changes in land in farms have been rather insig- 
nificant, that the agricultural population and among this population the Negroes in 
the old South at present have less land resources to support themselves on than they 
had a generation ago. The trend is continuing in the same direction, indicating that 
if strong action is not taken to prevent further erosion the farm population will have 
in the future even less land resources at its disposal than at present. 

3. Tenancy, Credit and Cotton 

The literature, today as earlier, contains excellent descriptions of how 
the plantation system, tenancy, and the one-sided cultivation of cotton and 
corn — and, in some areas, tobacco, rice, or sugar — have contributed to soil 
erosioni-how the credit system, by favoring cash crops, has made it difficult 
to breakaway from the vicious circle} how this credit-cotton-tenancy-erosion 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 433 

circle has become loaded downward through some of its own major effects: 
poverty for most, economic insecurity for all, widespread ignorance, low 
health standards, relative lack of an enterprising spirit, high birth rates and 
large families. 

The extent to which Southern cash-crop production is based on tenancy 
is indicated by the following figures. Almost three-fourths of all Southern 
cotton farms and more than half of the crop-specialty farms (tobacco, 
potatoes, peanuts, and so on)" were, in 1929, operated by tenants. About 
two-thirds of all tenants in the South, and almost three-fourths of the 
croppers, worked on cotton farms. Of the full owners, on the other hand, 
less than one-third had farms where cotton accounted for 40 per cent or 
more of the gross income. Most of the other two-thirds owned farms 
which were characterized as crop-specialty, general or self-sufficing. 10 

Negro farmers have always been dependent on the cotton economy to 
a much greater extent than have been the white farmers in the South. By 
1929 three out of four Negro farm operators, as against two out of five 
white farmers, received at least 40 per cent of their gross income from 
cotton. Although not more than about one-tenth of the Southern farm land 
was cultivated by Negro owners, tenants and croppers, almost one-third of 
the total output in cotton was produced on this Negro-operated land. 11 
In addition, an unknown, but probably considerable, quantity of cotton was 
produced by Negro wage labor on holdings operated by white farmers. 
The importance of cotton growing for the Negro farmer can thus hardly 
be over-estimated. 

In the main, cotton is cultivated by means of a primitive and labor- 
consuming agricultural technique which has not changed much since slavery. 
Cotton is largely responsible for the fact that the Southeast alone had to 
pay more than half of the national bill for commercial fertilizers. 12 One- 
third of the national total for all kinds of fertilizer was expended on cotton 
rarms. 13 Cotton growing, as any one-sided agriculture — if it is not lifted up 
by high techniques to a level where intelligence is constantly used and 
prosperity secured — has also psychological effects: it "limits interests . . . 
limits spiritual growth, makes people narrow, single-grooved, helpless." 1 * 
It invites child labor and causes retardation in schools. It favors large 
families. 

The wide fluctuations of the price of cotton 15 — which seem to have 

'The type of farm classification in the 1930 Census of Agriculture is based on gross 
income. Farms for which 40 per cent or more of the gross income was derived from cotton 
were characterized as cotton farms. By the same token, farms for which 40 per cent or more 
of the income came from one or several of certain specified crops (tobacco, peanuts, potatoes, 
soybeans, cowpeas, and so on) were classified as crop-specialty farms. When no product 
accounted for as much as 40 per cent of the gross income, the farm was "general." Self- 
sufficing farms were defined as those for which 50 per cent or more of the value production 
wai consumed by the farm family. 



234 An American Dilemma 

become more frequent after 19 14, due to wars, inflation, deflation, as well 
as intensified competition from other countries — make cotton a most hazard- 
ous crop, and the farmers who specialize in cotton run extraordinarily 
heavy risks which are outside their intelligent control. 18 The gambling 
tradition has been hard to overcome, although almost everybody seems to 
know that no solid material culture can ever be built on the poor man's 
speculation. But more fundamentally, the continued cultivation of cotton 
is called forth — as highly labor-consuming, simple in technique, and easily 
supervised — by the plantation and tenancy system; or, from another point 
of view, by over-population and tenancy, and — as a cash crop — by the 
dependence of Southern agriculture on short-term credit. 

The peculiar credit system of the rural South has often been analyzed. 17 
It has its historical rcots in the slavery economy and, later, in the emergence 
of the plantation system in the impoverished South after the Civil War. 
Since then the rural South has been greatly dependent on outside credit 
both because of the low standards of income and saving in the region and 
because of the comparatively high requirements on operating capital for 
cotton growing. The wide fluctuation of cotton prices and farm incomes 
have added their influence to make lending abnormally risky and, conse- 
quently, to make loans expensive. Also, from the point of view of business 
administration, the organization of banking and credit was most inadequate, 
and it remained so because of the low plane of political life in the South" 
arid the lack of active desire and ability to create large-scale cooperative 
organizations. 

As part of the federal agricultural policy, great improvements have 
lately been made by the organization of new credit agencies. 11 But still 
credit is expensive and difficult to get in the rural South, and this is undoubt- 
edly part of the explanation for the insufficient investment in land and 
buildings and for the slowness of mechanization. To the tenants, credit 
pressures mean usurious interest rates charged by planters and merchants 
for advances on food and farming necessities. For the agricultural structure 
as a whole, credit pressures — themselves partly caused by the dependence 
on cotton growing — mean a constant stimulus to keep the land in cotton. 

4. The Boll Weevil 

In this vicious system of economic poverty and exploitation of land and 
human resources, where every adverse factor is a partial cause of all the 
others, the boll weevil caused catastrophe. It is often described how it 
advanced eastward, passing the Mississippi River about 1910. 18 One state 
after anol|ier in the Old South was hit. The destruction was terrible. In 
many places, particularly in Georgia and South Carolina, farms and planta- 

* See Part V. 

'See Chapter ix, Section 11. 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 235 

ttons were permanently abandoned. In Georgia a survey of 59 Lower 
Piedmont counties showed that the cotton production in 1922 was only 
one-third of the average for the period 1905-1914, and by 1928 it still did 
not amount to much more than half of the same average. 10 

But as one state was suffering, those west of it were recovering. Thus, 
the boll weevil helped the four Southwestern states — Texas, Louisiana, 
Arkansas, and Oklahoma — to increase their share in the national output 
from a little more than one-third in 1909 to almost one-half in 1929; and 
at the latter time they had about three-fifths of the total acreage in cotton. 20 
In these Southwestern states cotton cultivation is less dependent on Negro 
labor and is also more mechanized. For both reasons this geographical 
dislocation tended, to an extent, to push Negro tenants off the. land. The 
ravages of the boll weevil in the old Cotton Belt had the same effect. The 
total effects on employment opportunities for Negroes in Southern agricul- 
ture have never been calculated, but they must have been considerable. 

The boll weevil, in conjunction with the post-war deflation and depres- 
sion, brought about a temporary decline even in the total national output 
of cotton around 192 1, and it was one of the reasons why the relatively 
consistent upward production trend — which had been noticeable until the 
outbreak of the First World War — was broken for a time. 21 

In spite of all misfortunes, cotton was still king when the last agricul- 
tural census was taken before the general upheaval of the 'thirties. 22 More 
than half of the total acreage harvested in the South in 1929 was in farms 
for which 40 per cent or more of the gross income came from cotton. Also 
crop-specialty farms (tobacco, potatoes, peanuts, and so on) appeared much 
more important than in the nation as a whole. Self-sufficing farms, too, 
were more prevalent in the Southeast than elsewhere, which, however, 
simply reflects the relatively cashless agricultural economy prevalent among 
certain groups of poor whites. Dairy farming, on the other hand, has been 
lagging in the South: in 1929 Southern agriculture did not account for 
more than one-fifth of the national value production of milk and dairy 
products. 28 

5. Main Agricultural Classes 

These are only a few hints about the scene of the rural Negro's struggle 
for existence. The plantation system and the tenure system, in addition, 
are institutional factors to be counted heavily when explaining why the 
agricultural South is even much poorer than can be grasped simply by 
stating the ratio of population to land and by noting the soil erosion. 

The economic chances for small- and middle-sized ownership, in the 
better part of the South, have been more restricted than in most other 
American regions. Owner-operated land in 1940 had a lower acreage value 
in the South ($27.11, including buildings) than in the nation as a whole 



236 An American Dilemma 

($3 x *37)i the fact that Southern land operated by croppers had a per unit 

value ($33.28) even higher than the latter figure indicates that only in 

part is this caused by any general inferiority of the Southern soil. 24 In large 

measure this is due to the fact that so much of the best land in the South 

originally was taken by the politically, socially, and economically dominant 

plantation owners. The rest of the Southern farmers had to fight against 

heavy odds. They had to compete with slave labor at the same time as they 

had to cultivate soil of lower average quality. The Civil War failed to 

bring about any fundamental change in this condition. The owners of the 

plantations soon regained much of their political power. Their land was 

still superior on the average, in spite of the fact that it was mistreated. And 

to compete with the plantations was still to compete with sweatshop labor. 

In 1930 the total labor force in Southern agriculture — if we except the 

large but somewhat vaguely defined group of unpaid family workers — was 

constituted as in Table 1. 

Two-thirds of the Negro, as against one-third of the white, "primary" 
agricultural workers were either croppers or wage laborers. Only one in 
eight of the Negro, but more than two out of five white workers were 
owners or part-owners. (Managers constitute an insignificant group.) The 
white owners outnumbered the Negro owners seven to one. There were 
more than two white tenants (higher than cropper) for every Negro" 
tenant. The total labor force in the two lowest tenure groups, on the other 
hand, was almost as large in the Negro as in the white group. 

There are great differences in economic status and degree of dependency 
between the several types of tenants. Highest on the ladder are the renters 

table' 1 

Nkoro and White Agricultural Workers in the South, by Tenure: 1930 



Number Per Cent 



Tenure 



Negro 


White 


Negro 


White 


J ,393,ooo 


*,945,°oo 


100.0 


100.0 


183,000 
98,000 

208,000 
393)000 
5»?x» 


1,250,000 
140,000 

569,000 
383,000 
603,000 


13. 1 
7.o 

15.0 
28.2 
36.7 


424 
4.8 

•M 
i3-e 
20.5 



Total* 

Owners and managers 

Cash tenants 

Other tenants, except 

croppers 
Croppers 
Wage laborers 



Sown*: Date en owners, tenants, and eroppere are from the Fifteenth Census of the United Statu: 1030. 

Italian. VA.ll, Part 2. County Tab! ' 

> data en wa« laborer* in agriculture 1 

.ivTsuta^Rsbiaii. 

'Bxchurre of unpaid family workera. 



Afriodhm. IteL II, Part 2. County Table I. They include a small number of nonwhites other than Negroes. 
Toe data en wfea* laborer* w agriculture ore from the Fifteenth Coons 0/ the United States: 1930, Population. 
VoUIV.Suta^Sblell 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 237 

and the cash tenants, who rent their farms for a fixed sum of money.* Cash 
tenants usually can be regarded as independent entrepreneurs — or at least 
they are not in most cases far removed from such a position. All other 
kinds of arrangements entitle the landlord to a certain share of the main 
cash crop, for instance, one-fourth, one-third, one-half, sometimes even as 
much as three-fourths. Those tenants who receive one-half (or less) of the 
crop are the sharecroppers. The cash tenants usually furnish all the work, 
stock, feed, fertilizer, and tools themselves. The other groups generally 
furnish less and less of these things the lower their tenure status. Those 
lowest down on the scale have little or nothing but their labor to offer. 26 
They are really nothing but laborers — or rather their position often tends 
to be even less independent than that of ordinary wage earners. Before we 
elaborate on this subject, however, it seems appropriate that we inquire 
into the reasons why so few of the Negro agricultural workers in the South 
have been able to reach a position of ownership. 

6. The Negro Landowner 

The story of the Negro in agriculture would have been a rather different 
one if the Negro farmer had had greater opportunity to establish himself 
as an independent owner. In that case he would have become more firmly 
attached to the soil. He would have known that he worked for his own 
benefit, that he had a real chance to improve his level of living by his own 
efforts. "All that is now wanted to make the negro a fixed and conservative 
element in American society is to give him encouragement to, and facilities 
for, making himself, by his own exertions, a small landowner," wrote Sir 
George Campbell in his survey of the South and the Negro problem in the 
late 'seventies. 20 

There was a time when it really looked as if the rural Negro had some 
chance of eventually getting established on an ownership basis. True, the 
development was generally slow, but it seemed to go in the right direction. 
The number of Negro farm homes in the United States that were owned 
by their occupants had by 1900 reached a figure of 193,000 — constituting 
about 25 per cent of all Negro farm homes. 27 This percentage marks the 
peak of the proportion of landowners in the Negro farm population. 

The absolute increase continued for some time, but at a slower rate. The 
absolute number of colored farm owners in the South reached, in 19 10, a 
maximum of about 220,ooo. 28 After 1920 it gradually declined, and it 
dropped to 174,000 by 1940. 28 Of all Southern states with any appreciable 
Negro farm population, only Virginia and Florida showed a majority of 
owners among the Negro farm operators in 1940. But even in the Virginian 
stronghold, Negro ownership was weakening, in that the number of 

* Sometimes the farm is rented for a fixed quantity of a certain crop, usually lint cotton 
("lint-rental")- We shall include them under the term "cash tenants." 



238 An American Dilemma 

colored farm owners had declined by not less than one-third since 19 10. 
And Florida depends relatively less on tenants and relatively more on 
wage labor than do other states in the South, 80 so that even there but a 
minority of the Negro farm population resided on their own places. 

There are some general factors to be accounted for in this context. On 
the one hand, the low land values in the South and the low investment in 
land improvements, houses, and machines should make landownership 
easier to attain. On the other hand, the inadequate organization of banking 
and credit, 81 referred to above, works against both the acquiring and the 
holding of land. Another general factor making landownership, when it 
is attained, more precarious than it needs to be, is the old-fashioned system 
of local real estate taxation, which the South shares with the rest of the 
nation. This means that a landowner does not get a corresponding decrease 
in his taxation in a year when his crop has failed or his income drops 
because of a price fall. The dependence on hazardous cotton growing, of 
course, makes this institutional deficiency more detrimental to the Southern 
landowners. 88 

More specifically, in interpreting the reversal in the trend of Negro own- 
ership, Southeastern agriculture after 1910, and particularly during the 
first years of the 'twenties, was hit by the boll weevil and by the general 
upheaval caused by the War and the post-war depression. The owner 
group, of course, should have been less affected than the tenant group, as 
far as living standards are concerned, but the latter had no ownership to 
lose. The fact that even the number of white owners in the South declined 
by more than one-tenth between 1920 and 1930 (from almost 1,400,000 
to 1,250,000) suggests that conditions in general were unfavorable for the 
small farm owner. Between 1930 and 1940 (when the number of white 
owners was 1,384,000), on the other hand, there was a corresponding large 
increase in the number of white owners, whereas colored ownership con- 
tinued to decline. This, however, scarcely means that the prospects for 
economic success in small ownership had become any brighter. As will be 
shown in the next chapter, it indicates rather that white owners, or those 
who were able to get into that class, were the ones who had most oppor- 
tunity to stay on the land, "if, in view of the paucity of migratory outlets, 
they preferred to do that." 38 

Data on size of farm, acreage values, and farm values (Figure 5) give 
a rather good idea of how marginal the existence of the small owner- 
operatorsiin the South tends to be. They show, further, that this is partic- 
ularly true about Negro owners. It seems, finally, that their relative 
position has become even more unfavorable than it was a couple of decades 
ago. Land operated by croppers, particularly Negro croppers, has the 
highest average value per acre. This, as we have said, is due to the fact 
that plantations, by and large, are located on much of the best land of the 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 339 



Figure 5. Average Size of Farm, and Average Value of Land and Buildings 
per Acre and per Farm, By Color and Tenure, in the South: 1920 and 1940 




Owners Tenants* Croppers Owner* Tenants* Croppers 

Value par Acre (Dollars) 







Owners Tenants* Croppers Owners Tenants* Croppers 

Vftlae. per fWB (D9M.WB? 




Owners Tenants* Croppers 
1920------ 



Owners Tenants* Croppers 
. - 1 9 4- --- 



Source: United States Census. 

Note : *Tenants include only tenants who are not sharecroppers. 



240 An American Dilemma 

South, leaving less of first choice than of second and third choice land to 
the middle-sized and small owner-operators. Cash tenants and share renters 
used to take an intermediate position, but are now pretty close to the owner- 
operators in this respect. White owners showed a higher average acreage 
value in 1940 ($27.27) than colored owners ($23.89). The decline in 
acreage value since 1920 was in every tenure group less pronounced for 
whites than for Negro operators. 

Size of farm increases with tenure status. In every case, however, Negroes 
have much smaller farms than whites. The consequence is that the average 
size of Negro owner-operated farms (60.4 acres) is about the same as for 
white sharecroppers (58.9 acres). The mean value of land and buildings of 
the farm operated by colored owners ($1,443) is lower even than that of 
the white sharecropper's plot ($1,908). The value of implements and 
machinery that the colored owner has ($90) is only a fraction of that which 
the white owner has at his disposal ($322)." 

7. Historical Reasons for the Relative Lack of 
Negro Farm Owners 

Even apart from the general economic trends in Southern agriculture, 
there are several reasons why the Negro has been unable to make a better 
showing as an independent farm owner. 

There is his background in slavery, and the fact that he scarcely ever has 
been encouraged to show much initiative or been taught that it pays to 
look after oneself rather than to be dependent. More often he has been 
given to understand that his racial status provides an excuse for not being 
able to shift for himself, and that modest acceptance of a low position would 
rate a reward bigger than that offered for courageous attempts to reach a 
higher position. 85 In the rural South he has certainly not enjoyed much of 
that kind of legal security which is a necessary condition for successful 
entrepreneurship; at any rate, he has had far less of it than the whites 
with whom he has had to compete.* His best security has been to become 
associated with a white person of some status in the community} and that, 
in most cases, has presupposed an employer-employee or landlord-tenant 
relationship. b Since his earnings as a farmhand or tenant have always tended 
to be lower than those of white workers, he has had less chance to save 
enough money for the purpose of buying land. The belief that he is racially 
inferior and the social isolation between the two castes have also affected 
the credit rating even of those individual Negroes who otherwise would 
have been' excellent risks. His- educational opportunities in the rural South 
have been extremely poor. 

Although the influence of such general conditions cannot be measured, 

* See Put VI. 

" See Chapter a 6, Section a. 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 241 

there is scarcely any doubt about their being highly significant. In addition, 
however, a number of specific factors have been operative. Some of them 
have already been touched upon in the preceding chapters. There is, in the 
first place, the fact that rural Negroes, to a great extent, are concentrated 
on plantation areas, where comparatively few small holdings are for sale. 
There was no general land reform, and the Negro did not participate in 
the development of the West. But even in Kansas, where one of the few 
noteworthy attempts to organize new -post-bellum Negro settlements was 
made, there were not more than a few hundred Negro owner-operators in 
1940; and some of these owners probably were the descendants of persons 
who had been brought to Kansas as slaves. Undoubtedly the attitudes of 
the white settlers constituted the main cause for this lack of success. In the 
largely over-populated, white-dominated districts of the South, these 
attitudes, if anything, were still more pronounced. 

There have, however, always been some small holdings for sale in the 
areas of Negro concentration, and more have been added to this supply as 
plantations tended to disintegrate. 30 During the years immediately follow- 
ing the Civil War, land values were low, and that was one of the reasons 
why a few Negroes, along with many poor whites, managed to get into 
the landowning class. Some ex-slaves bought land from their former mas- 
ters, and there are places where such Negro properties still constitute a 
large proportion of all Negro-owned farms. 37 

The Negro has, however, usually been at a disadvantage when competing 
with white buyers even in the Black Belt. Apart from economic and other 
factors already mentioned, he has had to overcome segregational and 
discriminatory attitudes of the rural white population. 

. . . Negro kndownership — even now — can be achieved only by means of a most 
exacting and highly selective procedure; the would-be owner must be acceptable to the 
white community, have a white sponsor, be content with the purchase of acreage 
least desired by the whites, and pay for it in a very few years. 

The Negro buys land only when some white man will sell to him. Just because a 
white man has land for sale does not mean that a Negro, even the one most liked 
and respected by him, can buy it even if he has the money. Whether a particular 
Negro can buy a particular tract of land depends upon its location, its economic and 
emotional value to the white owner and other white people, the Negro's cash and 
credit resources, and, doubtless most important of all, his personal qualities in the light 
of the local attitudes: He must be acceptable. 38 

Negro ownership emerges in areas where land is rented, rather than where it is 
worked by croppers or wage hands. Renters do not cultivate the "proud acres" of the 
plantations. They are common only where the tracts of land are too small, too 
unproductive, or too distant to warrant supervision; or where the owners, because of 
other remunerative business, make little effort to secure maximum revenue from their 
lands. On the out-of-the-way, or neglected tracts, in the nooks and corners between 
creeks and between white communities, and in areas where white community organi- 



242 An American Dilemma 

zation u disintegrating — these are the placet where renter* are most prevalent, where 
they more least often, where they are most independent and self-directed, where 
they accumulate most cash and credit. These are the tracts which are most often 
for sale to the Negro. 89 

There has always been an active solidarity among white people to 
prevent Negroes from acquiring land in white neighborhoods. The visitor 
finds, therefore, that most often he has to get off the main road and into 
the backwoods if he wants to see a Negro landowner. The intensity of 
those attitudes on the side of the whites — which closely correspond to the 
attitudes behind residential segregation in the cities* — seems to have been 
increasing toward the turn of the century. This was the time when the Jim 
Crow legislation was built up in the South." There actually were even 
sporadic attempts in the beginning of the century to institute laws in order 
to block Negro ownership in white rural districts.* It is noteworthy that 
the trend toward increase of Negro landownership was halted at about the 
same time. 41 

The last decade, finally, has brought a new competitive advantage to 
the white owner. Government regulations, which have become of great 
importance, no doubt have helped the Negro owner along with the white 
owner. The fact, however, that the local administration of the new agricul- 
tural policies is entirely, or almost entirely, in the hands of white people 
cannot fail to make the Negroes a relatively disfavored group. This 
problem will be touched upon in the next chapter. 

8. Tenants and Wage Laborers 

In 1880, 64 per cent of the Southern farms were operated by owners. 
The corresponding figure for 1900 had fallen to 53 per cent. By 1930 it 
was down to 44 per cent. A majority of the Southern farm operators were 
tenants and sharecroppers. There was a similar development in other parts 
of the country as well. But nowhere else did it go so far. 42 And nowhere 
else did this trend have quite as serious social implications. 

Behind this change are the lagging industrialization, the high rural 
fertility rates, and the relatively small opportunities for successful owner- 
ship in the South. Not only Negroes, but whites also, were affected by these 
factors. Already by 1900° there were more white than Negro tenants in 
Southern agriculture, and during the following three decades the number 
of white tenants increased by more than 400,000, or roughly 60 per cent, 
where as the corresponding figures for nonwhite tenants were 147,000 and 
37 per cent, respectively. 43 

There seems to have been a parallel trend in the case of wage laborers, 

* See Chapter 19, Section 3. 

* See Chapter a 8, Section 4.. 

* Then wm ho breakdown by color in earlier census reports. 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 243 

although much less pronounced. In 19 10 more than half of these workers 
were Negro — in 1930 less than half of them. 44 It should be kept in mind 
that their status, by and large, is more insecure even than that of the 
sharecroppers, who, at least, are. assured of year-round employment — 
although not always of a year-round income. This, however, does not reflect 
on the wage labor institution as such. If all Southern farm labor had been 
remunerated on a straight wage basis, the conditions would have been 
entirely different. A greater proportion of the wage laborers would have 
had year-round jobs, and these year-round employees would have known 
in advance for what wages they were working — something which is not 
true about tenants and croppers. At present most Southern agricultural 
wage laborers are literally "marginal." It is only at seasonal peaks that 
most of them can count on full employment. This circumstance, more than 
anything else, accounts for their inferior position. 

The fact that nowadays almost two-thirds of the tenants are white has 
been emphasized time and again in the discussion. It does not follow, how- 
ever, that white tenancy is more serious than Negro tenancy. Rather it is 
the other way around. We have seen that Negroes, more than whites, are 
concentrated in the lower tenure groups, and that in each tenure group 
Negroes are economically much weaker than whites. In addition, there are 
certain other significant differences. 

It would be a mistake to believe that the plantation system and the 
tenant system are synonymous concepts. The majority of all tenants do 
not work on plantations, but on small holdings. In 1910, the last time an 
enumeration of plantations was made, 45 it was found that 39,000 planta- 
tions, located in 325 plantation counties, had about 400,000 tenants; 48 
whereas, the total number of tenants in the South was over i,5O0,O00. 47 
The ratio of plantation tenants to all tenants must be still lower now, for the 
number of tenants has increased much more in non-plantation counties than 
in plantation counties. 48 During the last decade there has even been a 
decrease in tenancy on the plantations." It may be, therefore, that three out 
of four tenants in the South today work on small holdings. 

While plantation tenancy belongs to the classical subjects in the rural 
sociology of the South, much less scientific attention has been given to the 
Southern nonplantation tenant. It is certain, however, that the great 
majority of these small-holding tenants are white. 40 A large number of 
them are related to their landlords. 60 For all we know, their conditions, in 
many cases, may be similar to those of white tenants in other parts of the 
country, except that, more likely than not, they have to work and live 
under poorer circumstances, and their general status, to some extent, may 
have been influenced by the plantation patterns. 

The majority of the plantation tenants, on the other hand, are Negro. 1 

'See Chapter 11. 



si 



244 An American Dilemma 

There has been a "white infiltration" even on this mainstay of Negro 
tenancy, however. 88 It even happens quite frequently that white and Negro 
tenants work on the same plantations, although usually not in the same 
capacity. White workers tend to be relatively more concentrated in the 
outlying districts, or on the least valuable parts of the plantations where 
the tenants work more independently and have a higher tenure status; 
whereas, Negroes more often make up the bulk of the labor force on the 
main part of the plantations, where they can be closely controlled and 
supervised by the owners or managers. 

Thus, some of the main factors which account for the more rapid rise 
in white over Negro tenancy, until about 1930, are: 

1. Negro tenants, more than white tenants, are dependent on the unstable cotton 
plantation economy. 

2. Tenancy has increased more in nonplantation counties than in plantation counties. 

3. Cotton culture has been moving toward the Southwest. 

4. There has been white "infiltration" into plantation areas. This, however, is not 
so much an explanation as a description of the change. It still remains a problem 
why the intensity of rural population pressure increased more for white than for 
Negro agricultural workers." 

Also of relevance in this context is the fact that Negroes are "attached 
to the soil" much less than whites — that is, they more frequently move 
from one farm to another. 53 But this does not, in any way, constitute a 
racial or cultural characteristic. In reality, it is nothing but a consequence 
of the fact that Negroes, more than whites, are concentrated in the lower 
tenure groups; the lower the tenure- status, the more frequent are the 
farm-to-farm movements." In every given tenure group, Negroes tend to 
stay somewhat longer on the same place than do white farmers. In 1935, 
38 per cent of the colored, as against 49 per cent of the white, croppers in 
the South had stayed less than one year on the farms which they were 
operating. The same proportion for other tenants were 27 and 40 per 
cent, respectively. 

It goes without saying that movements as frequent as those must have 
an adverse influence on the living conditions of the tenants. No tenant who 
expects to farm on another place the next year can have much interest in 
doing any work on his house or in developing a year-round garden; neither 
can he be interested in maintaining the soil. Negligence in these and other 
respects naturally tends to become particularly serious in cases of absentee 
ownership; I $ percent of the 646 plantations studied by Woofter in 1934 
did not Mve a. resident owner or even a special hired overseer. 86 

* See Qwjfter S. 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 245 

9. The Plantation Tenant 

The plight of the plantation tenant 88 has been described so often and so 
well 57 that there is no need to give more than a short summary here. But 
a summary we must present. For, despite all scientific and reformistic 
publicity, these conditions are still news to a great part of the American 
people; as we see it, they could not otherwise have prevailed in their 
present form for such a long time. The subject, in a way, is a fascinating 
one. It is the problem of an antiquated paternalistic labor institution in the 
midst of modern American capitalistic society. 

If we except cash tenants — who usually, but not always, can be regarded 
as rather independent entrepreneurs, and who make up only about one- 
tenth of all Negro tenants — plantation tenants are just ordinary laborers, 
although they are designated as farmers in the census. Their work is 
usually supervised, more or less regularly, by the landlord or his repre- 
sentative. In some cases they even work by the clock and in gangs. 58 Their 
wages, however, are not determined according to supply and demand in a 
free labor market. 

Wages are not fixed per week, per month, or per annum. Nor is the 
sharecropping agreement modeled after the ordinary piece-wage system. 
The cropper, rather, gets a share of the product. The quantity of the 
product depends not only on the efforts of the workers but on the condi- 
tions of the soil and on the hazards of wind and weather; and it is not the 
quantity of the output alone but also its price that determines the final 
reward for the toils of labor. a The wages of the sharecroppers and share 
tenants, in other words, vary in such a way that there is no reason whatever 
to assume that they, except accidentally and occasionally, would satisfy the 
supply-and-demand equations of an ordinary free labor market. b 

While in other parts of our economic system it has been the accepted 
ideal that risk of investment should be directly correlated with the size of 
investment, the sharecropper and the share tenant — although nothing but 
laborers from economic and social viewpoints — have to carry a considerable 
share of the entrepreneur's risk. It is possible that it is this practice of 

'Ordinary piece-rate wages also may vary with the change in general market conditions; 
but only through the process of price formation in the commodity and labor markets and 
with a certain time-lag, and seldom, if ever, to the same extent as the price of the product. 

'As a labor or tenant contract, the share tenant agreement reveals its pre-capitalistic 
character by the fact that the wage or the land rent is not fixed in a sum of money or product 
but in a proportion which remains fixed as a matter of tradition independent of how 
prices and price relations change. The products and cost factors in the production other 
than labor are, however, priced in the market and so is land. Only labor costs (and incomes) 
are fixed in an arbitrary and traditional proportion. This indicates the dependent status of 
labor in this economic system. Labor has not even had the protection of being directly related 
to the objective conditions of price formation in an economic market. 



246 An American Dilemma 

hedging by spreading the risk over the whole tenant working force whicli 
has enabled the planters to carry on the cotton crop gamble much more 
persistently than otherwise would have been possible. It is true that the 
share tenant shares in the benefit of a good crop and favorable market 
conditions with the landowner. It is also true that he does not have much 
capital of his own. If losses run so high that at the end of the year he 
finds himself indebted to the landlord, he may often be able — at least now- 
adays — to get rid of this debt simply by moving to another plantation. 
But many a time he may find himself having invested a full season's work 
without having received anything near the wages he would have earned 
had he been a wage laborer with full employment. On such occasions, at 
least, he has to face long months of semi-starvation for himself and his 
family. That certainly is a business risk just as much as any. And should 
he have any livestock or other assets, the landlord is always free to take 
them, to cover possible debts. In nine cotton states "the landlord has the 
legal right to sell any and all property the tenant may have to secure 
payment of rent and furnishings." 58 

Indeed, any study of the concrete details of the system will reveal that 
the sharecropper or share tenant usually has most of the disadvantages of 
being an independent entrepreneur without having hardly any of the 
rights that ordinarily go with such a position. Only in relatively few cases 
are his rights and obligations set down in a written contract. 00 In most 
cases he does not sell even his own share in the cotton crop himself/ 11 
According to the crop lien laws in most states, he has no right to dispose 
of it until he has paid to the landlord all the rent due and the advances 
he has received during the season. And since he cannot well do that until 
the crop has been sold and paid for, the landlord is legally entitled to 
handle all the marketing as he sees fit. 62 Seldom is the tenant even con- 
sulted about how to sell and when. 

Worse than that, however, is the general pattern of making all kinds 
of account-keeping a unilateral affair. The tenant usually has to take the 
landlord's word for what price has been obtained for the cotton, for what 
is the total amount of advances received from the landlord, and for what 
the interest on these advances is, and so on. An attempt on the part of 
the Negro tenant to check the accounts against his own itemized annota- 
tions — if he should have kept any (which is rarely done) — will not 
accomplish much, in most cases, except possibly to infuriate the landlord. 08 
The temptation to cheat the tenants at the final settlement for the year, 
under such circumstances, must be great. Indeed, Southern plantation 
ownejs w£uld be unlike other human beings if they did not sometimes 
misuse thjS considerable arbitrary power they have over their tenants. 64 

Itt several conversations with white planters — as also with employers of 
Negro labor in cities, particularly of domestics — the writer has noticed the 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 247 

display of a sort of moral double standard. "White people of the landown- 
ing class who give the impression of being upright and honest in all their 
other dealings take it for granted and sometimes brag about the fact that 
they cheat their Negroes. On the other hand, it is equally apparent that 
there is a strong recognition in the South of the difficulty for a landlord 
to get and keep good workers if he docs not have the reputation of dealing 
with them on a straight basis. Still, there are too many "settlement jokes" 
in the Southern folklore 05 and too many statements about the matter in 
the literature to make a student inclined to dismiss the possibility of 
outright cheating. There is social significance even in the fact — which 
every observer will be able to confirm — that "the system leaves the Negro 
tenant with the feeling that he has not been treated justly." 06 

The "advancing" of food, clothing, and other necessities of life is a 
significant part of the system. Since the tenant is ordinarily without 
resources — otherwise he would not be a tenant — he cannot usually wait for 
his wages until the crop has been harvested and sold. He has, therefore, 
to live on a credit basis at least during a large part of the year. For an 
average period of seven months, according to Woofter's sample study for 
1934, the tenant receives credit from the landlord, often in a special store 
or commissary, where he can buy household supplies up to a certain amount 
a month. This amount varies according to the size of the family, the pros- 
pects for the crop, the market conditions, and so on. The average in 
Woofter's sample was $12.80 per month and $88 per year. 87 A study of the 
Yazoo-Mississippi Delta in 1936 showed an average subsistence advance per 
year of about $94 for sharecroppers and $138 for share tenants. If operating 
credit is included, the amounts were $162 and $283, respectively. 08 

The interest rates charged for these advances are extremely high. A flat 
rate of 10 per cent is usual but, since the duration of the credit is only a 
few months, the annual rate is several times higher. According to Woofter's 
sample study in 1934, it was no less than 37 per cent. 69 A plantation study 
for 1937 on a somewhat smaller sample gave almost the same average. 
"These rates were two to three times as high as those paid by the operators 
(landlords) for short-term credit." 70 

In addition, prices in commissaries are often "marked up" to a consider- 
able extent. 71 Some people in the South, however, will tell the visitor that 
the breaking up of rural isolation and the increased opportunities for 
tenants to spend week-ends in towns and cities and see the stores has made 
this latter practice less prevalent than it used to be. When the advances 
are paid in cash, which sometimes happens, the tenant naturally has 
greater freedom to buy at ordinary market prices. 

According to Woofter's plantation study for the depression period 1930- 
1934, no less than 13-15 per cent of the tenants ended each crop year in 
debt to their landlords. This means that, in addition to their having to 



248 An American Dilemma 

start the next crop year with a deficit, they have nothing to live on during 
the winter. The average debt for these tenants varied between $89 and 
$143.™ As hinted at before, it is probable that indebted and propertyless 
tenants are often able nowadays to get rid of their debts simply by moving 
to another place. This, at least, is likely to be the case when the tenant is 
an inefficient worker, and the landlord, for this reason, is not interested in 
keeping him and considers the expense for collecting the debt higher than 
it is worth. The extremely high number of tenants who have stayed less 
than one year on their present farms is enough to indicate the relatively 
unhampered movements of most tenant operators. The practice of forcing 
an indebted tenant to stay on the plantation in order to work off his debt 
certainly became less prevalent during the period of relatively abundant 
agricultural labor which lasted from the beginning of the depression until 
the present war boom. 73 We do not know whether the present shortage 
of farm labor has brought about any new increase in such debt-peonage. 
What we do know is that the whole legal system previously gave the 
tenants but little protection against such abuses and that, so far, there has 
been no fundamental change in this legal system. In addition, the planter 
has at his disposal all the extra-legal caste sanctions. It is certain, anyway, 
fliat there is some debt-peonage left. 74 

Apart from the legal and extra-legal pressures, the terms established in 
the landlord-tenant agreements and settlements will be heavily loaded 
against the plantation tenants, because of that monopolistic element which 
was analyzed even in the time of Adam Smith: the purchasers of labor 
will be bound as neighbors, friends, and gentlemen not to bid against each 
other for tenants. This monopolistic tendency will be particularly effective 
in the plantation South where the tenants are usually absolutely unorgan- 
ized, where, further, there is a racial split and usually extreme prejudice 
among them, and where — particularly in the case of Negro tenants — the 
social distance between employers and employees is enormous. 

That such a monopolistic tendency is strong has been seen by many 
observers. 76 To begin with, no planter feels that he can afford to lose a 
tenant who has started a crop. The claims on solidarity go further, how- 
ever. To be a "tenant-stealer" is traditionally considered a bad thing. 78 
According to the prevailing custom, no landlord is supposed to accept a 
tenant whom the previous employer does not agree to release. 77 

The basis of this custom is a feeling, on the part of the planters, of a 
sort of collective ownership of the workers in the community. The resent- 
ment against any outsiders coming in for the purpose of hiring labor is 
even stronger, if possible. 78 The hostility against outside labor agents grew 
particularly strong during the period of the First World War, when 
Northern industry made its strongest bid for the Negro agricultural 
worker. Several states enacted laws against such practices. 



Chapter ii. Southern Plantation Economy 249 

The last state law against the enticement of labor was passed in Louisiana early 
in June, 1935, making it "unlawful for any person to go on the premises or planta- 
tion of any citizen between sunset and sunrise and assist in moving any laborers or 
tenants therefrom without the consent of the owner of said premises or plantation." 70 

This should be the place for "balancing the picture" by looking for 
positive aspects of the paternalistic labor relations on the Southern planta- 
tions. The system doubtless has some positive sides. Even the outsider will 
occasionally find some evidence of them. There, are good landlords, who 
really try to take care of their tenants to some extent. They arc the ones 
who get and hold the good tenants. They are rightly proud of this fact 
and tell the interviewer about it. Most studies contain some statement from 
such a plantation owner who has made the discovery that he can get the 
best out of his Negro tenant just by treating him decently and by appealing 
to his ambition to get ahead — in other words, by regarding the Negro like 
any other human being. Since the general standard is so low, it is not 
expensive to be an exceptionally good planter and have the best tenants. 

Yet the fact that planters, too, are ordinary human beings, and that 
many of them actually are better than the system which they represent, is 
not high praise of the plantation system as an economic institution. Every 
social institution, in this way, presents a whole range of cases — low 
extremes, normal cases and high extremes. Nevertheless, we can talk about 
the whole range as being low or high in relation to the corresponding 
range for alternative institutions. The benevolence of certain landlords 
certainly is a great help for many individual tenants. But it is, in the final 
analysis, nothing else than an aspect of the arbitrariness of the whole 
system. 

It is our impression that the predominant feeling among most Negro 
tenants is that they can get more or less out of the landlord depending 
upon what kind of landlord he is, and how he is approached. But not often 
have they been taught to feel that they have definite rights and definite 
obligations, and that it is up to them to make good. Several local Farm 
Security officials in the South have informed us of how the inherited 
paternalistic attitude on the part of the planters and the corresponding 
attitudes of dependence, carelessness, and lack of ambition on the part of 
the tenants constitute the toughest problems in their work. The plantation 
system, in summary, fails flagrantly to meet the standards of social and 
economic efficiency and justice. 80 

There is no lack of statements in the literature on the plantation system 
of the South to the effect that its survival through generations is a "proof" 
that it — compared with other organizations of land, capital, and labor for 
agricultural production — is superior and best adapted to the circumstances 
of the region. This is, of course, nothing but the application of the liberal- 
istic (do-nothing) doctrine that "what is, must be"— which from a scientific 



i$o An American Dilemma 

viewpoint is most doubtful in itself under any circumstances* — to a tradi- 
tion-bound, nonliberalistic, economic arrangement. The logical fault is too 
obvious to need further comment. This particular economic arrangement, 
as all others, has to be explained in historical terms and to be evaluated in 
terms of its effects compared with alternate, possible arrangements. 

In this context the changes actually occurring in the plantation system 
become important. As we have indicated, the system of slightly modernized 
Black Codes seems finally to be withering under the assaults of the 
Supreme Court and other federal agencies as well as of various pro- 
democratic organizations in both the South and the North. The relative 
abundance of agricultural labor during the 'thirties has contributed, prob- 
ably more than anything else, toward the gradual wiping out of the 
practice of debt-peonage. Attempts to organize plantation tenants have 
occurred. Efforts of the federal government to rationalize the credit struc- 
ture and other crucial elements of the plantation system have been started. 
There are some concerted efforts to begin reforming even the tenure 
conditions. The cotton acreage has been drastically curtailed. We shall 
find, however, that new problems have risen — problems which, again, have 
Affected the Negroes much more seriously than the whites. 

* See Appendix 2. 



CHAPTER 12 

NEW BLOWS TO SOUTHERN AGRICULTURE DURING 
THE THIRTIES: TRENDS AND POLICIES 

i. Agricultural Trends During the 'Thirties 

Of all the calamities that have struck the rural Negro people in the 
South in recent decades — soil erosion, the infiltration of white tenants into 
plantation areas, the ravages of the boll weevil, the southwestern shift in 
cotton cultivation — none has had such grave consequences, or threatens 
to have such lasting effect, as the combination of world agricultural trends 
and federal agricultural policy initiated during the 'thirties. These changes 
are revolutionizing the whole structure of Southern agricultural economy. 
They have already rooted out a considerable portion of the Negro farmers 
and made the future of the remaining group extremely problematic. 

For more than a century America has been the leading cotton-producing 
country in the world. But cotton growing in other countries was slowly 
increasing, and the increase became substantial in the decade following the 
First World War. American cotton production, except for annual fluctua- 
tions, remained fairly constant during this period. Still during the 'twenties 
American-grown cotton represented more than half of the total world pro- * 
duction. Meanwhile domestic consumption had ceased to increase. The 
trend of cotton prices was downward during most of the 'twenties. 1 Lange 
remarks: 

Looking back to this period, it is now rather obvious that cotton production in the 
United States had already reached its limits of practical expansion. American cotton 
had to face a keen competition on most markets abroad, as the production in certain 
foreign countries, primarily China and Egypt, was increasing and new raw material 
for textiles began to appear at the same time. 2 

But it was during the 'thirties that the over-production problem really 
became serious. It was then that the demand was declining drastically abroad 
and at home due to the depression and to the growing competition from 
other countries and to the increased use of substitutes. The cotton economy 
suffered much more from the depression and recovered much less after- 
ward than did American agriculture in general. 8 
Southern tobacco also is losing out on the international market, and the 

»5i 



2$1 An American Dilemma 

slow rise in domestic consumption has failed — at least up to the present 
war boom — to compensate for the loss. 4 Southern sugar cane is in a similar 
position." Only in one main commercial crop in the South did a rising 
demand keep pace with production — namely, the fruit and vegetable pro- 
duction in Florida and the coastal plains. But even for these crops prices 
have declined, and their cultivation offers workers still worse living condi- 
tions than does the cotton plantation. 6 

Under this onslaught on the old cash crops of the South, and also induced 
by an agricultural policy which we shall comment upon later, dairy farming 
has made some headway in the South. 7 There does not seem to be much 
hope, however, that dairy farming ever will become a major Southern 
industry. In the Lower South there are certain climatic obstacles which so 
far have been difficult to overcome; and milk and cream require a local 
market. Beef cattle and hogs, on the other hand, have shown a big increase. 8 
Yet the Southeast had, in 1940, still less than one-tenth of all the beef 
cattle in the country. 6 

These are some of the significant changes which have occurred in 
Southern agriculture during the decade before the present war boom. 
The terrific blow to the cotton economy was the most significant, particularly 
from the viewpoint of the Negro. Some of the other changes indicated a 
beginning reorientation along new lines. But none of them was large 
enough to compensate for the shattering disaster in cotton, for cotton is 
one of the most labor-consuming crops in the South. 

It has been estimated that on the average 30 million acres of land devoted to the 
production of cotton will furnish about 255 million days of work per year in 
growing, harvesting, and hauling the crop to the gin. If the same acreage were put 
in corn it would require only no million days of labor, or less than one-half the 
time required by cotton, and if seeded to oats or hay the total days of labor required 
to produce and harvest these crops would amount to from 4; to 50 million days, or 
an equivalent of one-sixth to one-fifth as much labor as if the land were devoted to 
cotton production. 10 

Thus, even under favorable circumstances it would not have been possible 
to avoid widespread unemployment of agricultural labor. But circumstances 
were not favorable. For although extensive and commendable attempts 
were made to deal with the social aspects of the problem of structural 
change, the major New Deal efforts, as we shall find, did not fit into 
constructive long-range program for a reorganization of Southern agricul- 
ture. 

The present war boom, of course, has brought temporary relief. There 
has been an increased demand and an increased production of several crops. 
The growgig of peanuts has been stepped up considerably. There is a greater 
production of tobacco, sugar cane and rice; soybeans, too, have increased, 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 253 

although much more so in the North than in the South. The market for 
all meats is booming. 11 There is a pronounced scarcity of agricultural labor 
in the South as well as everywhere else. This new situation may, in a 
measure, have some positive effects also on the long-range development. 
The War probably has been a stimulus to greater crop diversification in the 
South. The encouragement of out-migration from rural areas may make 
agricultural over-population somewhat less severe even after the War than 
would have been the case under other circumstances. But there are also 
great risks in this development. When the results of the destruction in 
Europe and elsewhere have been overcome, American agriculture will 
again appear as over-expanded. The long-range employment prospects 
in Southern agriculture, on the whole, are rather dark. 

2. The Disappearing Sharecropper 

Up to the time when the data from the 1940 Census were released, the 
main emphasis in the discussion was placed upon the increase in tenancy — 
a trend which had been noticeable ever since the Civil War — and upon the 
decline in number of farm owners — which became apparent during the 
'twenties. The 1940 Census, however, showed that the trends had become 
reversed. Tenancy was on the decline, for there were 192,000 fewer Negro 
and 150,000 fewer white tenants in 1940 than in 1930. Ownership, on the 
other hand, was on the increase in Southern agriculture, except for the 
Negroes (Table 1). 

TABLE 1 
Number of Farm Operators in the South, bv Tenure and Color: 

'WO, 1935. AND I94O 

(in thousands) 

Owners Tenants Other 

and Managers than Croppers Croppers 



Year Nonwhite White Nonwhite White Nonwhite White 

1930 183 1,250 3° 6 7°9 393 383 

1935 186 1,404 4.61 854 368 348 

1940 174 1,384 108 700 299 24I 



Sourcts: V. S. Bureau of the Census. Census of Agriculture: tots. Vol. Ill, pp. 106, 107,. and "6-133. 
Sixteenth Census of the United Stales: 1940. Agriculture. United States Summary. Fust Series, Table VI: 
Supplemental for the Southern States. 

The rise in ownership and decline in tenancy did not balance each other, 
however. The increase in number of owners occurred altogether between 
1930 and 1935 and was restricted to the white group. The decrease in the 
total number of tenants occurred between 1935 and 1940 and was then 
divided between the two racial groups. Before 1935, however, white cash 



254 An American Dilemma 

and share tenants seem to have become much more numerous, whereas all 
other tenant groups — Negro cash and share tenants as well as Negro and 
white croppers — had started to decline. The decrease in number of tenants 
during the following five years became much more pronounced and 
affected all four color-tenure groups. 

The final results, by 1940, of all these changes were that there was a 
somewhat larger number of white owners than in 19305 a slightly lower 
number of Negro owners; a much lower number of Negro cash and share 
tenants, and of Negro and white croppers. The total number of croppers 
had declined by almost one-third (somewhat more for whites and some- 
what less for Negroes), and the decrease in number of Negro cash and share 
tenants was at least of the same relative size. 

These rather spectacular changes do not mean, observes Sterner, 

. . . that the situation has been ameliorated. By and large it is rather the other way 
around. While the limitations in the opportunities in Southern agriculture formerly 
caused an increase in tenancy, they now seem to have been aggravated to such an 
extent that the Negro and white sharecroffing class as well as the Negro cash and 
share tenants are in the frocess of being forced out. 12 

Yet, many of the ex-tenants and ex-croppers may have stayed in agricul- 
ture. They have simply been reduced to wage laborers on the farms. This, 
of course, means only that their position, in most of the cases, has become 
still more marginal. 13 

The main reason why the Negro lost out, probably, was the fact that 
he, much more than the white operator and worker, was dependent on the 
cotton economy which was hit most severely by the depression and by the 
falling off of foreign markets. Practically all the increase in number of 
farm operators as well as the total increase in farm population during the 
period 1930-1935 occurred outside of the cotton regions; 1 * and after that 
period there were no further increases of that kind. Yet, the depression 
by itself seems to have had much more immediate effects on income condi- 
tions than on employment, for the decline in Negro tenancy before 1935 
was relatively limited compared with what was to come after that year. 
It seems, therefore, that the agricultural policies, and particularly the 
Agricultural Adjustment program (A.A.A.), which was instituted in May, 
J 933> w<w th* fator directly responsible for the drastic curtailment in num- 
ber of Negro and while sharecroppers and Negro cash and share tenants. 

It is true that behind the A.A.A. was the depression and over-production. 
If no such thing as the AAA. had ever been instituted, the cotton price 
would have remained low for so long a time that production and employ- 
ment eventually would have been severely curtailed. And A.A.A. certainly 
raised the income not only for planters and other owners, but—to an extent 
-■also for those tenants and croppers who were allowed to stay in employ- 



Chapter ia. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 255 

ment. But hundreds of thousands of them did not get any protection at all. 
They were pushed off the land, and, if anything, the A.A.A. hastened their 
elimination. 

3. The Role of the A.A.A. in Regard to Cotton 

In order to understand this, it is necessary to recall what the A.A.A. 
program is all about and how it works.' Its fundamental objective is to 
raise and stabilize farm income. This objective is sought along four princi- 
pal lines: (1) limitation of cash crop acreages; (2) removal of price- 
depressing surpluses from regular markets; (3) payment of direct subsidies 
to farmers; (4) and encouragement of conservation practices. There is an 
intimate relationship between all four main aspects of the program. The 
first two are aimed at restricting the supply brought on the ordinary 
market. The cash crop limitations make greater emphasis on soil-building 
crops and practices possible. Subsidies are paid as a remuneration for 
carrying out acreage restrictions and conservation work; their function is not 
only to let the farmers have a direct bounty, but also to encourage them 
to participate in the program, which is not compulsory but voluntary. The 
voluntary character of the participation, however, seems to be something 
of a fiction. There is, for instance, a ginning tax on cotton and a market- 
ing tax on tobacco, whereby the nonparticipant is penalized if he markets 
in excess of what he normally produces on what should be his acreage allot- 
ment. The fact that those taxes have to be approved by referendum does 
not make the participation much more voluntary for the individual opera- 
tors who would be against it. 

The cut in cotton acreage has been drastic. 16 Owing to a tendency to 
intensify the cultivation and to retain the best land in cotton and, perhaps, 
to make some improvements in cultivating technique, the production has not 
decreased to the same extent. 10 Since the acreage cuts were not made 
large enough to offset the effect of the increased acreage yields, the over- 
production problem obviously has not been solved in this way. 17 

The A.A.A. policy of keeping up the level of cotton prices by crop reduc- 
tion and removal of price-depressing surpluses from the market, of course, 
helped the United States to lose its foreign market to competing countries. 
The volume of American cotton export hit a low during the crop year 1938- 
1939. 18 On the whole, it seems that "of all our crops, cotton has given the 

'The following short description of how the A.A.A. program has affected the Negro 
Is based largely on an unpublished manuscript prepared for this study by Gunnar Lange 
(''Agricultural Adjustment Programs and the Negro" [January, w ]). Several s.gnracant 
details and qualifications, as well as certain characteristics of the program during the fin* 
years of its operation, are intentionally overlooked in the summary given m the Mm. 
Main emphasis » put on those points which facilitate the understanding of how the program 
has affected the Negro. 



2 $6 An American Dilemma 

New Deal most trouble." 1 * In 1939, however, a substantial export bounty on 
cotton was instituted. This, and perhaps still more the increased consump- 
tion during the present war, has brought temporary relief. The carry-over 
has declined, but it is still significant. 

Indeed, the whole program would have failed to bring about any 
increase in cotton prices had it not been for the removal of surpluses from 
the ordinary market. Very commendable were the efforts — now discontinued 
— to increase the cotton consumption of the needy by direct distribution of 
mattresses and by the Cotton Stamp Plan. Those measures, however, were 
expensive in relation to their results in reducing the cotton surplus. The fact 
that the cotton producer receives but 15 cents of the consumer's dollar 
spent on cotton products 20 makes it much more difficult to make a cotton 
distribution program effective than it is to take similar measures in regard 
to most other agricultural products. Therefore, this part of the removal 
program was only experimental. 

Of real importance, on the other hand, have been the commodity loans 
to individual farmers and associations of farmers for the purpose of encour- 
aging storing (The Ever-Normal Granary Plan). These loans explain 
the large carry-overs. The existence of such huge and fluctuating surpluses 
means, however, that the whole system has had complete lack of stability, 
which was contrary to the official purpose of the Granary Plan to keep the 
supply in balance. Had it not been for the present War, there could ulti- 
mately have been but two alternatives: either further drastic cuts in the 
cotton acreage, or collapse of the whole program. 11 In either case, the Negro 
would have been hurt severely. 

4. A.A.A. and the Negro 

It is something of a problem, however, that most of the reduction in cot- 
ton acreage was carried out before 1935, whereas the decrease in number of 
Negro and white croppers and of Negro cash and share tenants did not 
start to become really significant until after that year. Of course, there is 
nothing unnatural in a certain time-lag between acreage curtailment and 
effects on employment. The intensification of cultivation of the cotton land 
not eliminated by the A.A.A., the increase in certain other crops, and the 
uncertainty about the permanence in the change may have contributed to 
a certain delay in the reorganization of the labor force. The Supreme Court 
decision of 1936, invalidating the first A.A.A. program, and the actual 
occurrence of an all-time peak in cotton production in 1937 justifies, to a 
degree, the hypothesis that the change may have had the appearance to 
many planters of being only temporary. By letting the employees share 

*A third alternative would have been to rely consistently on export subsidies} but such 
1 policy t more likely than not, would have been neutralized in the long run through retalia- 
tory measures of foreign competitors. 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 257 

in the reduction of income which had occurred since 1929, and by letting 
newly instituted rural relief agencies" provide supplementary income for 
part of the labor force during off-seasons, it was possible for the planters 
to retain most of the tenants for some time. 

Furthermore, it was probably not only by the acreage reduction that the 
A.A.A. later gave inducement to the reduction in number of tenants. 2 * 
Another factor, perhaps equally important, was the A.A.A. benefit pay- 
ments. During the first years of the A.A.A. system there was a general 
complaint that landlords simply grabbed the benefit checks which they were 
supposed to forward to the tenants. 22 Many of these complaints turned out 
to be justified—even when investigated by county committees which were 
almost entirely white, and on which landowners were over-represented. 

These practices were, in the main, later abolished. In the last few years, 
benefits are paid direct to the tenants. Although the credit relations between 
landlord and tenant, the system of unilateral account-keeping, as well as 
the legal impotence of the Negro tenants, still may enable the landlord 
to receive a larger share of the benefits than he is supposed to get, the 
situation certainly has changed. As early as 193 5- 1936, the Consumer 
Purchases Study, for instance, showed that even sharecroppers were receiv- 
ing some A.A.A. payments. 23 The basis for the division of the payments 
between landlord and tenant, moreover, has been changed, so that the 
tenant today is to receive a larger share — about equal to his share in the crop 
— than according to former stipulations. The average benefit per plantation 
tenant, according to a sample study for some 3,000 plantation tenant 
families, had increased from $11 per year in 1934 to $27 in 1937. The 
latter figure constituted almost 10 per cent of the total net cash income of 
the average tenant family ($30o). 24 In all probability there has been a 
further increase since 1937. 

These changes in favor of the tenants, however, must have had the 
character of a two-edged sword. They gave the landlord a considerable 
economic interest in decreasing the number of tenants or lowering their 
status to wage laborers. And it is particularly during the latter part of the 
'thirties that this temptation became significant. This may well be the 
main explanation of why most of the decline in number of sharecroppers 
and tenants occurred after 1935. Landlords have always tended to change 
the tenure status of their workers whenever that has been compatible with 
their own economic interests. 20 There is no reason why they should have 
behaved otherwise when carrying out the A.A.A. regulations. 

It is true that the A.A.A. contracts have included stipulations according 
to which the landlords were obliged to maintain the normal number of 
tenants and laborers. 20 Yet such a regulation, even under the best conditions, 
must be difficult to enforce. Landlords cannot well be asked to keep the 

' See Chapter 15. 



258 An American Dilemma 

same individual tenants and workers as before. When some move away — 
and they do move often — it can always be claimed that there just are no 
others good enough to take their jobs and farms. There is another stipula- 
tion, however, which should be easier to enforce. It is prescribed that a 
reduction in the number of tenants and Croppers on a farm shall not operate 
to increase the payment to the landlord. Yet even this safeguard seems to 
have been insufficient. For Negroes, and tenants generally, have practically 
no real influence on the local administration of the program. And if a reduc- 
tion in the number of tenants "is considered justified from the viewpoint 
of 'sound management,' the stipulation preventing an increase in the amount 
of payments to the landlords shall not apply." 87 Several observers have 
noted that landlords actually have substituted wage labor for tenants in 
order to secure larger A.A.A. payments for themselves. 28 

In summary: Landlords have been made to reduce drastically the acreage 
for their main labor-requiring crops. They have been given a large part of 
the power over the local administration of this program. They have a 
strong economic incentive to reduce their tenant labor force, a large part 
of which consists of politically and legally impotent Negroes. Yet they have 
been asked not to make any such reduction. It would certainly not be 
compatible with usual human behavior, if this request generally had been 
fulfilled. Under the circumstances, there is no reason at all to be surprised 
about the wholesale decline in tenancy. Indeed, it would be surprising if 
it had not happened. 

5. The Local Administration of the A.A.A. 

A few remarks on the local administration of the A.A.A. are pertinent 
here, as a further explanation of the last point. This administration is in 
the hands of the Extension Service — that is, the County Farm Demonstra- 
tion Agents — and the County Agricultural Conservation Committees 
representing local farmers. It is our impression, based upon a large number 
of interviews, that the county agents in the plantation South, to a great 
extent, have an attitude on economic", social, and racial questions which is 
similar to that of the large landowners. Some of them actually are planters 
themselves. The committees, at least in plantation counties, are characterized 
by an over-representation of big estate owners. 20 Committee members have 
often been appointed by the federal administration upon the recommenda- 
tion of the county agent, which meant that the F<xtension Service continued 
to control the local committees. The federal administration has continued 
attempting to democratize and to decentralize the administration of the 
A.A.A. An important development is the recent organization of land-use 
planning committees for the purpose of achieving coordination and local 
adjustment of the various action programs. The Negro, however, has 
scarcely profited by these reforms. 80 



Chapter ia. New Blows to Southern Agriculture J&59 

It is true that the Negroes commonly vote in AAA. referenda for certain 
decisions, such as the establishment of marketing quotas." Their votes are 
needed, since a majority of all farmers, including tenants and croppers, 
must be in favor of the program for it to be adopted. But Negroes are 
seldom allowed to vote for committeemen. Even when Negroes do exercise 
some privileges, it seldom means that they have any real influence on the 
decisions. 

Not only Negro tenants and croppers, but Negro farm owners as well, 
are jeopardized by their relative lack of influence on the decisions of the 
local A.A.A. administration. The allotment of cotton acreage and benefit 
payments is a rather complicated affair. There are certain statistical computa- 
tions involved, and these computations, in part, are based on records con- 
cerning previous farm practices on every individual holding. The accuracy 
of the records and calculations depends on the good-will, conscientiousness, 
and competence of those in charge of the local control. If they do not ade- 
quately represent all local farm groups, it can scarcely be avoided that the 
rights and interests of under-represented or entirely unrepresented farmers 
and tenants are overlooked in many individual cases. This is more likely 
to be the case since such groups, particularly Negroes, include a large 
proportion of more or less illiterate people who are unable to understand 
the intricate regulations well enough even to find out whether or not they 
have been wronged. 31 Indeed even highly educated persons may have to 
make a special effort in order to check up on their share. 

6. Mechanization 

Before we proceed to an evaluation of the A.A.A. program, we must dis- 
cuss a factor which seems bound to add its influence in displacing Negro 
labor on Southern plantations: mechanization. We also want to look for 
tendencies toward concerted defense action on the part of the plantation 
laborers. 

Up to now mechanization has not been important. Cotton cultivation, in 
the main, is carried on by a technique which has not changed much since 
slavery. The low degree of mechanization is the reason why cotton growing 
requires so much labor and keeps this labor down to such low levels of 
living. At the same time, the cheap labor makes mechanization unprofitable. 
Otherwise it might be expected that the commercial farming of cotton on 
the Southern plantations would be more inviting to more efficient produc- 
tion methods than the subsistence production on family farms. But 
mechanization has actually been slow. 82 

In the last decade, however, there has been a tendency toward a narrow- 
ing of the still wide gap between the national and the Southeastern rates 
of mechanization. 88 That cotton planters in the Southeast would like to 

* See Chapter it, Section 3. 



26o An American Dilemma 

buy more nmchines is evident from a sample inquiry about factors retard- 
ing mechanization; half of the informants stressed the difficulty of financing 
purchases. 8 * 

It should be noted that the two Southwestern states, Texas and Okla- 
homa, show a different picture. 85 But what has happened in the Southwest 
has only a slight direct importance for Negro employment, as Negroes 
there are so relatively scarce in the rural districts. If mechanization for a 
long time should fail to become as intensive in the Southeast as in the South- 
west, there is no doubt that the Negro, nevertheless, will suffer indirectly. 
Great hindrances to mechanization have been both the difficulty of getting 
credit and the high rate of interest. The recent reforms in the organization 
of agricultural credit have reduced this obstacle considerably. The A.A.A. 
benefit payments add to the supply of cash that planters can use for mecha- 
nization, though it is true that even with these payments their incomes have 
not come to the pre-depression level. The A A. A. 'program has, however, 
another and most important influence toward increasing mechanization 
because of the premium it offers for reducing the number of tenants. 

Formerly, agricultural machines were not well-adjusted to the rolling 
terrain in some parts of the South. This is being overcome by newer types 
of machines constructed to satisfy Southern requirements. 38 As the South- 
ern market for machines increases and, perhaps, other markets contract, 
the machine manufacturers, no doubt, will direct more of their attention 
toward the specific needs of the South. The mechanical cotton picker 
eventually may be perfected to such an extent that it can be used extensively 
on an economical basis } 37 a mechanical cotton chopper, perhaps, is a nearer 
possibility. 38 But even without such innovations, there will be more motors 
running in the agricultural South. The great number of large holdings, 
in some measure, should facilitate the use of more machine equipment, and 
Negroes are concentrated in those regions where holdings are large. 

The threat against employment opportunities in the rural South is poten- 
tially greater, for the very reason that so far there have been but few 
machines on Southern farms. The displacement of labor which can be 
brought about by further mechanization is so much greater than anywhere 
else. Negroes, for several reasons, will feel the effects of this trend more 
than white workers, in the same way as they have suffered more from the 
decline in cotton economy. They are more dependent on the cash crop culture. 
They are more concentrated on plantations. They are objects of prejudice, 
especially when it comes to handling machinery. To operate an expensive 
machine is to have a position of responsibility, which, even in the rural 
South, must draw "white man's pay." Although Negroes have shown that 
they can acquire the necessary skill for the purpose, 39 there is scarcely any 
doubt that employers, more often than not, will prefer white labor if farm 
operations are mechanized. The records show that but a small part of the 



Chapter 12.. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 261 

machine equipment in the South is on farms where there are colored opera- 
tors. 40 It will always be easier for employers to find workers who know 
how to run machinery in the white group. More and more the Negro will 
be reduced to a seasonal worker, and even this opportunity will dwindle if 
chopping and picking, too, should become mechanized. 41 

7. Labor Organizations 

In view of the quantitative significance of the labor displacement during 
the 'thirties, one would have expected to find widespread evidence of unrest 
among the sharecroppers. One would have expected, further, to find a 
great number of publicized expressions of a popular concern about what 
was happening, as well as a widespread discussion of ameliorative programs. 
Finally, one would have expected concrete action to follow these discus- 
sions. 

There was unrest among the sharecroppers. There was publicity about it. 
And the federal government did make highly commendable and rather 
sizable attempts to improve the conditions by its various Farm Security 
programs." But the organized attempts of the tenants and sharecroppers 
to fight for their needs were rather weak and scattered. And the publicity, 
largely a result of certain incidents during the organizational work,* 2 was 
not extensive enough to reach far outside the ranks of such reformers, 
administrators, social workers, scientists, journalists, and others who more 
or less professionally had to follow the development. The federal govern- 
ment itself called attention to some of the problems involved by publishing 
several outstanding reports, including the Report on Farm Tenancy by the 
President's Committee, Woofter's study on Landlord and Tenant on the 
Cotton Plantation, and the Holley, Winston, and Woofter volume on 
The Plantation South, 1934-1937. But even in these otherwise enlightening 
studies there was little, if any, attention given to the wholesale decline 
in number of tenants." The general public was rather unaware of the deeper 
social significance of such incidents as occasionally made the front page of 
the press. What the federal government did for the Southern tenants, 
therefore, appeared to the average citizen more or less like a goodhearted 
and, perhaps, extravagant benevolence on the part of the New Deal. He 
usually had no idea at all that part of the distress was due to government 
policy. Popular backing for the protest movement was by no means as strong 
as it could have been had the general public been better informed. 

' See Section 12 of this chapter. 

'The explanation is largely that the statistics had not yet furnished any conclusive 
evidence on the significance of the change. One cannot help feeling, though, that the political 
necessity to defend all kinds of farm relief measures against attacks from the nonagrarian 
groups caused a certain unwillingness to admit that the A.A.A. program could have con- 
tributed to the decline in employment opportunities. 



262 An Amxoucan Dilemma 

It should not surprise us that organizational efforts among Southern 
tenants and farmhands were practically absent before the New Deal and 
remained weak even during the latter part of the 'thirties. Even in coun- 
tries where the labor movement and collective bargaining have proceeded 
far in advance of American accomplishments in this field, the organization 
of agricultural labor has always been a hard task. The spatial dispersion of 
production and of the labor force and, still more, certain elements of 
rural culture tend to increase inertia against concerted action. In the South 
these difficulties are enhanced by the low educational level and the poverty 
of the agricultural workers; by their complete lack of cooperative habits ; 
by the tradition of paternalism and dependence inherent in the plantation 
system; by the frequent moving from one locality to another; by the weak 
legal order which, in this field, has taken the form of ruthlessly beating 
down all labor organizations; and by the split between Negroes and whites. 
The last factor is of special importance because in this particular labor 
market there is intense competition between Negroes and whites. The 
whites could not possibly attain anything by organizing unions excluding 
Negroes. Whites and Negroes are exchangeable from the employers' point 
of view, and there exists a pressing labor surplus, particularly of Negro 
labor. 

This is the general background against which the first labor movement 
among Southern farm workers should be viewed. The attempt to unionize 
has been concentrated mainly in the Southwest and in the Western border 
regions of the Cotton Belt, but the movement is spreading eastward. 
Arthur Raper, writing in 1940, summarizes the situation thus: 

At present the only three labor unions of farm tenants which are strong enough 
to be of any consequence have interracial membership. They are: The Farmers' 
Union, with headquarters at New Orleans and with activities limited largely to 
Louisiana; the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of 
America (C.l.O.) with comparatively few members in the cotton area; and the 
Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. 43 

Most of the states in the Southeast are untouched by these activities. 
Raper explains this limitation in the following way: 

The reasons are varied. In this newest cotton country a considerable proportion 
of the tenants have a background of small ownership or independent labor at sawmills. 
They hare not been so long schooled in the plantation dependency as have the 
landless families in the Southeast, where the present plantation roots back into 
slavery. In the newer plantation region, holdings are larger and absenteo ownership 
prevalent; relationships between management and workers are leas personal, and the 
presence of labor organizers 11 less noticeable. 44 

Another reason for the regional differential is that the legal order is some- 
what stronger in the Southwest. A handbill distributed in 1940 by a group 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 263 

called Missouri Agricultural Workers Council, contained a reference to 
a previous demonstration, which read: 

We staged the protest in Missouri, — not because cotton labor is treated more 
unfairly in Missouri than elsewhere. We know that is not true. We staged it in 
Missouri because we had less fear of bloody violence in Missouri. 4 " 

It seems that these organizations grow up largely because of the special 
problems brought about through the A.AA. and the decline in employ- 
ment opportunities. The Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, which is still 
the main organization in the field, started around an organized attempt 
of sharecroppers, in the neighborhood of Tyronza, Arkansas, to get their 
share of the A.A.A. payments and to stand up for their rights not to 
be displaced as a consequence of the A.A.A. program. 48 Indirectly, the 
results of these activities have been significant, in that the limited publicity 
around them probably has contributed a great deal to induce the federal 
government to take certain actions. The direct results, on the other hand, 
seem not to have been important, except in individual cases. The S.T.F.U. 
at the beginning of 1942 claimed a membership of 15,000 of which, how- 
ever, only 2,000 were members who paid dues regularly. 47 Besides the 
general handicaps of organizing Southern farm workers, mentioned a few 
pages back, these organizations have been hampered by certain internal 
differences, particularly between the leadership of the S.T.F.U. and the 
U.C.A.P.A.W.A. The fact that whites and Negroes have been organized 
together, has, of course, been a main difficulty, but the pioneers have, on 
the whole, met it with success. It would seem that the most important 
single difficulty in the way of these movements is the lack of a legal tra- 
dition in the plantation South.* 

It is difficult to judge about the future chances of trade unionism in 
the plantation South. On the one hand, the economic pressure is likely to 
continue and might become aggravated. Reasons for unrest and dissatis- 
faction are going to mount in the future as they did during the 'thirties. 
And there are indications of a development toward greater respect for 
law in the South." In the political sphere there are reasons to expect an 
increase in participation and power for the working masses. The South 
is becoming increasingly industrialized, and in its industries unionism is 
pushing ahead. All these trends favor unionization even in the rural South. 
On the other hand, the difficulties to be overcome, particularly in the Old 
Cotton Belt where the Negroes are concentrated, are tremendous. 

* A more complete story of these attempts, interesting and significant though it might be, 
would deal more with such problems of law enforcement, or lack of it, that have to be 
considered elsewhere in our inquiry rather than with questions more immediately related 
to the social and economic conditions of the Negro in agriculture. See Part VI. 

* See Part VI. 

* See Chapters ij and 33. 



264 An American Dilemma 

It is difficult to see how the federal government would be able to cope 
more successfully with the displacement problem and with other problems 
developing as a consequence of economic trends, agricultural policy, and the 
War, without having the farm workers organized and their interests and 
opinions articulated. When after the present War the government is faced 
with the problem of reformulating its agricultural program for the South, 
we should expect that it will find it necessary at least to protect the Southern 
tenants in their legal right to organize strong unions. 

8. The Dilemma of Agricultural Policy 

If the farm workers become organized in the South, whether by their 
own efforts or by government encouragement, and if their organizations are 
able to enter into successful collective bargaining with the planters, any 
success in raising the earnings and living levels for farm labor on Southern 
plantations will accentuate, or rather make explicit in form of unemploy- 
ment, the bask over-population of Southern agriculture. Any policy which 
will improve levels of living, thereby increasing costs to plantation owners, 
will stimulate mechanization and will displace cotton by other crops which 
do not require so much labor. In the long-range view this might be desir- 
able, in terms both of economic rationality and of human welfare. But the 
immediate effect, if vigorous countermeasures to remove the surplus popula- 
tion from the cotton land are not taken, would be accentuated unemploy- 
ment, and the Negroes would be hurt the most. This is the dilemma of 
agricultural policy in the South. 

The dilemma is, of course, much more general. It is at the bottom of all 
agricultural policy in America and elsewhere. The ultimate objective in 
attempting to raise the living levels for farmers and to protect their eco- 
nomic security must be to make agricultural production more efficient — 
be it through the lowering of the credit rates, through the use of more 
mechanical equipment, through improvement of livestock and plants, 
through teaching the farmers how to use better techniques and how to plan 
their operations in a more economical manner. But all this must make the 
tendency toward over-production even more pronounced. It must lower 
the number of acres and workers required for satisfying a given demand. 
Some experts, like the agro-biologist, O. W. Wilcox, even go so far as to 
believe ". . . that if the most productive methods now known were gener- 
ally applied, then it would be possible for 1,600,000 farmers on 40,000,000 
acres to produce as much of our eight principal crops as are now produced 
by six or seven million farmers on about Z40,ooo,ooo." 4S 

This may be an exaggeration. But it seems obvious that the increase in 
production which, within a not-too-distant future, would be technologically 
possible to achieve, is large compared even with the largest conceivable 
needs of the American people. According to certain estimates, if all families 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 265 

with a poor diet could be given what the Department of Agriculture 
characterizes as a "moderate-cost good diet," this would, with -present 
techniques, require a crop acreage only about 20 per cent larger than was 
harvested in 1939.*' The attempts to increase the demands of low-income 
families by means of direct distribution of agricultural products, by the 
Food Stamp Plan and by school lunches, are highly commendable from 
the viewpoint of national health. But they cannot remove the over- 
production indefinitely} at best they can merely cushion the effects of it 
temporarily. 

By the same token, the attempts to make farmers go in for a system of 
almost complete self-sufficiency can scarcely do more than mitigate the 
effects of the rural over-population. 50 It is true, theoretically, that if a large 
enough number of farmers went in for self-sufficient agriculture, all over- 
production would be checked. But this would mean permanently dividing 
the farming population into two parts, of which only one would be allowed 
to go in for modern cost-saving specialization and efficient techniques. The 
other part would have to diversify its efforts and use inefficient techniques 
to an extent where they would be working hard and getting little in return, 
including practically nothing in the way of modern conveniences. This plan 
would never provide the hope of approaching what is understood to be 
"the American standard of living." Too, it would require the permanent 
stifling of ambition and an economic dictatorship to separate those retained 
in commercial agriculture from those forced into self-sufficient agriculture. 
Such a solution, if it were applied consistently and on a large scale, would 
not be acceptable to the American people. 

This basic dilemma in agricultural policy is now much greater in the 
South, where over-population is so much more pressing than in the North. 
The burden of over-population, in the form of both unemployment and 
extreme poverty among those retained in agricultural employment, falls 
much more heavily on the Negro population than on the whites. 

9. Economic Evaluation of the A.A.A. 

We are now ready to proceed to an evaluation of the A.A.A. program 
in its relation to cotton cultivation and the Negro farmer. 

From the restricted point of view of production efficiency, the reduction 
of cotton acreage, and the dismissal of tenants consequent to this and to the 
special inducement contained in the benefit payments, is all to the good. 
The Southern plantation has altogether too many workers and tenants j 
cotton cultivation, as it has been carried on in the South, involves an 
exploitation of labor that is not compatible with American standards and 
American economic possibilities. From the same point of view, mechani- 
zation also is desirable. Any rise in farm labor standards, through collective 
bargaining or social legislation, would also, for the same reason, be com- 



266 An American Dilemma 

mendable. In feet, economic progress means that we become able to produce 
our foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials with less of our available 
labor. 

But there is one important consequence of such a policy which must be 
taken into account if it is to be deemed rational: Employment must be 
found for the agricultural labor dismissed as a consequence of trends or of 
■policy. Theoretically, there is plenty of place for labor in American indus- 
try: the masses of people are in need of many more industrial products. 
Houses need to be rebuilt; people need more and better furniture and 
other household gadgets; large sectors of the American population do not 
enjoy health and educational facilities to an optimal degree. An obvious 
complement to an agricultural policy of the A.A.A. type would be, there- 
fore, a large-scale effort to move a fart of the agricultural population to 
industry. It is an equally obvious inference that this effort should be 
concentrated upon the younger generation, in which should be invested a 
vocational training making them fit for industrial work. In regard to Negro 
education in the South, this policy will require a complete reform of the 
educational system and, particularly, a reformulation of the aims of voca- 
tional education.* 

Unfortunately it happened that this agricultural policy had to be carried 
out during an unprecedentedly deep and protracted depression. Unfortu- 
nately, too, the New Deal was a conspicuous failure in its attempt to turn 
the depression into economic prosperity. 11 A general defeatism became wide- 
spread in regard to the continuation of the trend toward more and more 
industrialization. Even among experts there was defeatism. This explains 
both why this rational complement to the policy of agricultural contraction 
was never undertaken in any wholehearted fashion and why it was not 
more generally pointed out to the public by informed persons. In the 
'thirties, apparently, Americans doubted if there would ever be any place 
for more workers in American industry. This was, of course, a delusion. 
The present shortage of labor, and particularly skilled labor, for war 
production throws light on this mistake in American depression policy; 
but any improvement of business conditions would have done it, though 
not so dramatically. 

From the point of view of economic rationality a second main short- 
coming of the American agricultural policy is closely bound up with the 
one mentioned. The tremendous scope of the A.A.A. intervention in regard 
to cotton and other Southern cash crops alone makes it clear from the outset 

» See Chapter 17, Section j. 

* It is the author's considered opinion that this failure was not necessary but was due 
to specific faults in the economic theory and the coordination of practical policies of the 
American expansion program. As a discussion of this point would carry us too far and as 
it is not implied as a premise in our argument, we leave it with this note. 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 267 

that it was bound to have important effects, not only on acreage in various 
crops, on labor demand, and on the direction of labor demand, but also 
on the relative economic advantage of different types of landholdings and 
of forms of agricultural enterprises. This is a problem of the size of hold- 
ings; the relation between ownership, management, and labor; and so on. 
In the South and to the Negro, it is primarily a problem of whether or not 
the plantation system shall be protected and conserved. Johnson, Embree, 
and Alexander rightly emphasized that the "organization of the farm 
system is basic to reform in other matters." 51 The pretension of "neutrality" 
in this question is logically untenable when such big measures are taken. 

In the planning stage of the program and in the continuous modification, 
this matter should have been made explicit, a purposeful aim decided upon, 
and adequate means selected toward this aim. This was not done, except for 
some efforts to favor agricultural cooperation and except for a tendency — 
as the defeatism deepened in regard to turning the depression into con- 
tinued industrialization — to favor self-sufficient farming. These and other 
efforts were not clearly conceived of in the framework of the entire eco- 
nomic process and of national economic policy as a whole, and they were 
never attempted on a scale corresponding to the import of the agricultural 
trends and the scope of the A.A.A. interference in these trends. Arthur 
Raper, writing in 1936 and not having available the evidence of the 1940 
Census, nevertheless saw in his field studies the main facts and formulated 
this fundamental criticism: 

The New Deal with its cotton restriction program, its relief expenditures, and its 
loan services, has temporarily revitalized the Black Belt, has rejuvenated the decay- 
ing plantation economy. Those who control the plantations are now experiencing 
relative prosperity. On the other hand the landless farmers, though able for the 
most fart because of the New Deal to fay their rents and settle their accounts, are 
not only failing to escafe their chronic defendence but are actually losing status. 
Many tenants arc being pushed off the land while many others are being pushed down 
the tenure ladder, especially from cropper to wage hand status. 52 

The stipulations against the displacement of labor contained in the law 
may in some measure have been effective in slowing up the process (at the 
same time diminishing the gains of economic efficiency to be reached in this 
way). But they also comforted the policy makers and the general public, 
and contributed toward keeping off their minds the big unsolved task of 
moving labor from over-populated cotton-tenancy districts. 83 

10. Social Evaluation of the A. A. A. 

This brings us to a discussion of certain other social aspects of the A.A.A. 
A primary aim of the program was to bring relief to the rural population 
which had experienced a serious economic set-back. This aim was first 



268 An American Dilemma 

expressed in the price-parity and later in the income-parity formula. From 
this point of view the A.A.A. was parallel to other relief policies during 
the depression. Huge amounts have been spent for this purpose. The total 
appropriations for direct payments to farmers during the period 1 934-1 94.1 
has been estimated to be over $5,300,000,000, or more than three-fourths 
of the total costs for all farm policies (including special appropriations for 
land utilization, soil erosion, rural electrification, farm security, and so on). 8 * 
In view of these high financial sacrifices, one could have expected much 
more positive results for those within the agricultural population who 
were in particularly great need. Yet, for reasons that we have stated, large 
numbers among those most in need of assistance lost rather than gained 
because of the A.A.A. More generally, as we shall now point out, the 
benefits were not distributed in relation to needs. 

The total agricultural cash income for nine Southeastern states, according 
to certain estimates of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, was twice as 
high in 1940 as in 1932. Nevertheless, it was still more than 20 per cent 
below the 1929 level. 66 There is no way of telling how large a share in the 
income gains the Negroes have received. More Negroes than whites have 
been made to leave the land, and those who left, of course, got nothing of 
the increase of farm income or of A.A.A. benefits. In regard to wage 
workers it can be argued that the higher cotton prices and the A.A.A bene- 
fits indirectly allowed higher wages, and that this force on the labor market 
was stronger than any adverse force due to the increase of labor supply on 
account of dismissal of tenants. Independent Negro farmers have probably 
come to share in the benefits rather equally with white farmers of the same 
economic status, even if the set-up of local administration has not given 
them much of a voice. Negro tenants have increasingly received their share. 
The A.A.A. payments in these nine Southeastern states amounted to 
about $170,000,000 in 1940, or 13 per cent of the total cash income of 
agriculture for that year, and more than one-fourth of the cash income gain 
in agriculture since I932. 6a The Negroes' share in this agricultural relief 
was by no means proportionate to their numbers and still less with their 
greater needs. For every tenant and sharecropper had to let his landlord 
get part of the benefit payments for the plot of land he was operating, and 
the wage laborer received no part of it at all. And there are more white 
landlords and fewer white wage laborers. 

But this question at the Negroes' sharing in the A.A.A. benefits is only 
part of a bigger problem: the distribution of the A.A.A. benefits among 
various income groups in agriculture. As we mentioned, the distributional 
objective of the policy was defined in terms of some "parity" for the 
agricultural population as a whole,- compared with other population groups 
and with an eye on conditions prior to the First World War. Specifically, 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 269 

the aim in this respect was "reestablishment, at as rapid a rate as the Secre- 
tary of Agriculture determines to be practicable and in the general public 
interest, of the ratio between the purchasing power of the net income per 
person on farms and that of the income per person not on farms that 
prevailed during the five year period August 1909-July I9i4. ,m 

Such an objective is understandable in view of the fact that the relation 
between the farm and the nonfarm per capita income in the United States 
was 39 per cent less satisfactory, from the viewpoint of the agricultural 
population, in 1932 than during the period I9i0-I9I4. D8 Yet this develop- 
ment, serious though it may be, has never been the only agricultural income 
problem. Even before the First World War, there certainly were farm 
families, particularly among the Southern Negroes, who in spite of hard 
work seldom, if ever, managed to make their living conditions approach a 
real health standard. Conversely, even in 1932 many farm families had 
incomes high enough to enjoy more than such a standard would indicate. 
Nevertheless, in the A.A.A. program no reference is 

. . . made to the fact that there are striking differences as to economic conditions 
between different groups of the farm population, or that the need for aid is greate. 
for some groups than for others. The A.A.A. programs are concerned with total 
or average income only. . . . A.A.A. contains important elements of long-time planning 
already. It is, therefore, difficult to see why so little has been done to secure by legal 
provisions certain advantages of the policy for the working classes affiliated with 
commercial agriculture. 69 

One can explain this on several counts. To limit the programs in this 
way was necessary politically in order to organize a united farm bloc. 
Public assistance for the needy was to be kept in a separate compartment of 
federal activities. In the agricultural economics compartment there was to 
be "social neutrality" as far as the income distribution within agriculture 
was concerned. In an "economic" policy there was to be nothing that tasted 
of "relief." 

Logically, however, there is a flaw in the argument. As in the case of 
other relief appropriations, the idea is that the A.A.A. benefits shall be paid 
by the taxpayers of the nation. To give more out of the public budget to 
those who have more is not exactly to maintain a position of "social neutral- 
ity." A sample study for 246 Southern plantations shows that the planter's 
average net cash income per plantation was $2,528 in 1934 and $3,590 in 
1937. Out of these amounts not less than $979 and $833, respectively, 
came from A.A.A. payments. The tenants on the same plantations, on the 
other hand, had a net cash income for these two years of $263 and $300, 
respectively, out of which but $11 and $27 were A.A.A. payments. 60 Thus, 
even in proportion to their higher "basic" income, the planters received 
much more of this assistance than did their plantation tenants. 01 A few 



270 An American Dilemma 

large landlords, in the South and elsewhere, may receive as much as 
$10,000 per year in AAA. payments. 02 

It has been observed by many authors that America has to decide 
whether or not it wants to compete for the cotton world market on a low- 
wage basis with China, India, Africa and South America. If it does not want 
to enter any such low-wage competition, it must face the necessity of 
displacing farm labor on a large scale in the South. Under all conditions 
America has to face not only the existence of income differentials between 
the several classes in Southern agriculture, but the effects of its agricultural 
policy in maintaining or changing these income differentials. Woofter 
observes: 

There is no clear indication that the choice between various objectives has been 
made by those in control of policy. The A.A.A. is looked on as a temporary expedient 
which it is hoped may be gradually relaxed as the underlying economic situation of 
cotton and tobacco improves. 03 

We know now that the economic policy of the A.A.A. only aggravated the 
problem of the inability of Southern agriculture to support its population. 
The agricultural policy of the period between the two World Wars now 
belongs to history. The makeshift policy during the present War is of less 
general interest. When the War is over we shall again, in all countries, 
face the same problems of agricultural policy as we did prior to this War. 
Some of the problems will have been aggravated in the meantime. Some 
may, temporarily at least, look somewhat less pressing. Practically none 
will have been solved. There is, however, a possibility that they can be 
taken up more constructively with an international point of view and look- 
ing toward an international agreement. We need, in any case, to learn 
from experience and to analyze unreservedly the shortcomings of agricul- 
tural policy. The one-third of the American Negro people in Southern 
agriculture, who will still at the end of the War be in the bottom layer of 
the American economic system, has tremendous interests at stake in the new 
agricultural policy of America. It "is necessary for them that agricultural 
policy be planned with recognition of the serious over-population, of the 
necessity of large-scale movement of labor, and of the big income differences 
within the agricultural population. 

it. Constructive Measures 

.-J*2? a f: oun ' ° £ Am encan agricultural policy, even restricted to those 
Aspects of it v/ucA relate to cotton and the Negro, wouJd be JncomoJete if 

Wlicies wkh^l ? \™ mhe \ ° f m ° re ° r less dependent agricultural 

SoTpohdrConT 6 l0ng - ran8e ^ Much kM has ^ n *«* 
.jock ponaes than on the symptom-treating policy of the A.A.A. 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 271 

Some of the* other policies have begun only recently. Some— the exten- 
sion work, for instance — are carried on, more intensively than ever, along 
avenues opened up long before the New Deal. Few, if any, of these efforts 
are made primarily for the purpose of removing the basic trouble: thv. 
excess population on the Southern farm land. But there is an emphasis on 
new sources of income — both agricultural and nonagricultural. Certain 
measures, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electri- 
fication program, may facilitate to an extent the growth of nonagricultural 
rural industries. And even regardless of the over-population, there are, of 
course, plenty of agricultural problems which need constant attention if 
any substantial part of the rural people is to have an economically sound 
future on the Southern farm. 

We cannot give an exhaustive description of other agricultural programs 
now in effect. The array of measures is too wide for even a short summary. 
No one can fail to become duly impressed by the diversification of efforts 
when he tries to get some idea of what is going on, either by studying the 
literature, by running round in the huge buildings of the Department of 
Agriculture in Washington, by contacting those working in the field in a 
rural county, or just by looking at the periodical farm supplement of one 
of the better Southern newspapers. There are soil conservation projects} 
there is farm demonstration and home demonstration work} there are 4-H 
Clubs; rural electrification; substantial reforms in the farm credit system; 
county planning; encouragement of agricultural cooperation; technical 
research and experimentation; and many similar things. And last but not 
least, there is adult education, both as a separate program and as an aspect 
of almost every single part of the entire system of agricultural policies. 

Even if the success cannot well be the same all along the line, it is certain 
that huge gains eventually will be reaped from all these varied activities. 
An outsider may in the beginning have some doubt about what substantial 
reforms can be brought about by cooperative planning work in a Southern 
plantation county, where there is little democracy and social participation, 
and where issues of any deeper social significance are taboo at public 
discussions — not to speak of the fact that Negroes are not allowed to partici- 
pate on an equal footing with whites. Yet exactly in such communities there 
is a particular need for courageous attempts to democratize agricultural 
policies, however futile these attempts may seem to be at the start. The 
very fact that farmers of different social strata get into the habit of coming 
together for organized discussions cannot fail to bring about some increase 
in the mutual insight into the problems of the other man; and some real 
cooperative efforts eventually may come out of it. 

The farm and home demonstration work, which has been gradually 
developed since 1904, is highly significant, and the more so the lower down 
it reaches on the social ladder. The work with tenants, however, is largely 



272 An American Dilemma 

dependent on the good-will of their landlords. The latter have often 
objected to Negro farm and home demonstration agents approaching 
families on their holdings — sometimes even to any direct contact between 
the Extension Service and the tenants. "The Negro tenant farmers and 
croppers might best receive aid on the agricultural side principally through 
the white agents working with the landlords and managers," says the 
Extension Service of the Department of Agriculture, 6 * and this admission 
confirms statements that we have received when interviewing Negro agents 
in the South about actual conditions in many localities. We have also been 
told, on the other hand, that nowadays an increasing number of plantation 
owners do want their tenants to have the benefits of this educational work. 
The cuts in cotton acreage and the decline in income during the depression 
made many landlords see the need of more home-use production on the 
tenants' plots. 

Still, it does not seem as if the particularly urgent need for extension 
work among Negroes has been met to the same extent as has the corre- 
sponding need of the white farm population. Even though white agents 
may give some part of their time to work among the Negro farmers and 
croppers, they cannot be expected, as a rule, to be as intensively interested in 
the welfare of the colored people, as are the Negro agents; nor are they as 
likely to gain the confidence of the Negro farmers. By January 1, 1942, 
there were altogether 558 Negro extension workers in the South, or about 
1.2 per 10,000 Negro persons on the rural farms. 65 The corresponding 
figure for the total rural farm population in the South by mid-1939 was 
more than twice as high or 2.7. 66 

Our previous discussion of the practice of "advancing" credit for neces- 
sities to croppers and tenants has suggested an unsatisfactory organization 
of credit. But planters and other landowners, as well as croppers and 
tenants, have suffered in the same respect. They still have to pay exorbitant 
interest when borrowing money. But a reform of the credit market is under 
way. The financial collapse during the depression, which hit both land- 
owners and financial institutions, finally made the federal government 
intensify its efforts to reform the credit market. 67 

The accomplishments have been particularly noteworthy in the field of 
mortgage credit. Of the total amount of farm mortgage loans held on 
January 1, 1939, not less than 39 per cent were Federal Land Bank or Land 
Bank Commissioner loans; the corresponding proportion for the South was 
even higher (45 per cent). 68 In the much more difficult sphere of produc- 
tion credit, on the other hand, there has been less success. 60 The average 
interest rates for all short-term loans, as a consequence of this development, 
have decreased substantially. Yet it is still very high. The real expense 
even for government loans, in Woofter's sample study of 1937, was no less 
than 11..9 per cent. This is not a satisfactory situation. 70 Conditions may 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 273 

have improved since 1937, however, and the gradual development of the 
government credit system will give some advantages even to the Negroes, 
at least in an indirect way. The direct gains, on the other hand, have been 
very slight so far. Sharecroppers and share tenants can seldom use these 
sources of government credit, for the lien laws, in most cases, make them 
unable to present any security. 71 The Negro owners and cash renters, how- 
ever, should have some theoretical chances of getting assistance through 
the government credit agencies. As usual in cases when government credit 
activities are based on "ordinary business principles," there are no data by 
race which would allow us to present any direct evidence. But there is this 
simple fact, that Negro owners and cash tenants have much smaller and 
less valuable farms than have their white colleagues and cannot present as 
much of any kind of security. Therefore, their share in this new govern- 
ment credit must be far smaller than is the proportion of Negroes even 
among the more independent Southern farmers, who are predominantly 
white. 

Indeed, in all probability it is even smaller than can be explained solely 
on the ground of the limited resources of the Negro farmers. For the local 
administration of some of the most significant credit agencies is in the 
hands of credit cooperatives such as the farm loan associations for Federal 
Home Loan Bank loans, and the production credit associations for produc- 
tion credit loans. These associations naturally are dominated by white 
farmers. We have found already* so much evidence on how white farmers 
have misused administrative power given to them under other new eco- 
nomic programs that we cannot believe that this case should constitute an 
exception. It can almost be taken for granted that the temptation to discrim- 
inate against the Negro in many cases has been too strong to resist. 

12. Farm Security Programs 

So far we have examined, briefly, only those farm policies which are 
intended to help agriculture in general. There is, however, a special series 
of programs for the little man in the farm business — the Farm Security 
programs. Having observed that the major part of agricultural subsidies and 
relief has not been administered according to need but has often favored 
the classes in agriculture which are relatively best off, we must add that 
this minor part, represented by the Farm Security Administration, has 
had the function of bringing help to the neediest. 

Hundreds of thousands of Southern farm families have received assist- 
ance under these programs. As we shall presently show, Negroes have 
received a substantial share in the F.S.A. benefits — almost as much, as a 
matter of fact, as would correspond to their population ratio in Southern 

* See also the data on the Negro's share in the benefits under the Farm Security program 
in Section 1 2 of this chapter. 



274 An American Dilemma 

farm areas. Even so, it must be said from the beginning that, however 
well-directed and otherwise commendable these efforts are, they do not 
quite measure up to the size of the problems involved. We have found 
that $5,300,000,000 was appropriated for A.A.A. policies during the period 
I934-I94 1 ** Most of this was A.A.A. benefit payments, a disproportionately 
large share of which went to the big landlords. The outlays for Farm 
Security programs during the same period amounted to about one-fifth of 
this amount ($1,121,000,000), and a considerable part of this sum con- 
sisted of loans on which repayment could be expected. 72 And, as for the 
Negro's share, it must be strongly emphasized that it does not compare 
with his relative needs. It is, as we shall indicate, much more difficult for a 
Negro than for a white farmer in similar circumstances to receive assistance 
in this form. 

The explanation of this is simple. The disadvantaged groups in Southern 
agriculture, and particularly the Negroes, are politically impotent." The 
consequence is not only that the program that has been instituted in their 
behalf is more limited than is other farm aid, but also there is less assur- 
ance about its being continued. At the end of 1941 a congressional com- 
mittee, headed by Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, one of the leading 
Southern politicians, while wanting to maintain the A.A.A. payments, in 
all seriousness proposed that all Farm Security activities be abolished in the 
interest of wartime economy. There are several reports about the Farm 
Bureau, under the chairmanship of an Alabama planter, having pushed 
similar demands. 73 The result was a serious curtailment in the budget of the 
F.S.A. in 19425 otherwise it has so far been saved. But the incident is an 
indication of the usually rather noncooperative, and sometimes outright 
hostile, attitude toward the Farm Security work among those who have 
command of the power in Southern politics — an attitude which those who 
attempt to find out about the situation in the South cannot avoid observing 
time and again. There actually seems to be a notion that since this kind of 
assistance is given to poor people it is "relief" and, consequently, bad, 
whereas the fact that A.A.A. payments are distributed to all farmers, so 
that those in higher income brackets receive a much larger share than others, 
makes them "business" and not "relief." Farm Security benefits are like 
manna coming from heaven and there are those in the South who welcome 
it even outside the beneficiaries themselves. But those who favor the F.S.A. 
do not have political power. 

The differential treatment of the Negro can be explained on similar 
grounds. The local administration is not entirely in the hand of the officials 
of the Farm Security Administration. Clients, to be accepted, usually have 

'The increase in prices brought about by the A.A.A. can be counted as an additional 
subsidy. 

"See Chapter ai. 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 275 

to be passed on by committees of local farmers, over which Negroes have 
practically no influence. 74 Under such circumstances, it is surprising that 
Negroes have received a share which almost corresponds to their propor- 
tion in the population. The Farm Security Administration has, from the 
beginning, been fighting courageously and persistently against differential 
treatment} the agency openly refers to it as "discriminatory" in several of 
the surveys which it has made. 

In a just appraisal of the program all such difficulties must be taken into 
account. But there are still others. The laws and the system of law enforce- 
ment give the tenant little protection against the landlord— in fact, they are 
largely used for the purpose of making it easier for the landlord to exploit 
the tenant." This situation must be considered in any evaluation of the 
Farm Security Administration. It is obvious that it would have been more 
efficient under a strong and impartial legal system. Further, to rehabilitate 
tenants or other impoverished farmers, it is not enough merely to give 
them loans, and then to sit back and expect them to pay it all back while 
improving their economic status. It is a major educational job, and the great 
thing is that the F.S.A. has faced it. 

It is a question of teaching farmers, who have known about little but 
specialized cash- and feed-crop production, to diversify their efforts, to grow 
at home much of what they need for their own consumption. Farmers who 
have been nothing but dependent tenants have to become independent 
entrepreneurs. Former croppers, who have been exploited by the planters 
and have known few other ways of improving their status than to induce 
their landlords to give them as high advances as possible — and to move 
away if they fail to get as much as they think they can get some other place 
— have to learn quite a new kind of game. They have to learn that they, 
from now on, have definite rights and definite obligations, and that it 
usually pays to stay at the same place. Detailed farm and household plans 
are made up for them — if they do not know how to do it themselves; and 
it is seen to that they stick to those plans as far as possible. They are 
taught how to keep accounts. Some are illiterate; their children sometimes 
must be made to help them out. Many clients are without any resources 
whatever when they start out. Their meager cash income, while they are 
on the program, may dwindle to almost nothing because of unemploy- 
ment, occasional crop failure or other circumstances. For such reasons they 
need not only loans, but also straight subsidies. Clients who retain their 
status as tenants have to fulfill their obligations to the landlords as well as 
to the Farm Security Administration; in such cases, there is often a rather 
complicated three-cornered problem where much depends on the coopera- 
tion of all parties concerned. Many clients have difficulties because they are 
sick; a cooperative health program is organized for them. 76 

* See Chapter 1 1 and Part VI. 



276 ' An American Dilemma 

Many critics of the program have railed to recognize all of these dif- 
ficulties. Their criticism should not be directed so much against the Farm 
Security Administration as against the traditional social and economic 
patterns in Southern agriculture — against the fact that the small entre- 
preneur has had so little encouragement, and that the typical tenant has 
not been accustomed to much independent action and independent plan- 
ning. This is not to say that no mistakes have been committed. There is no 
doubt that, particularly during the earlier stages of the development when 
there had to be much improvisation and experimentation, several projects 
were unnecessarily expensive. Too, there seems to have been some uncer- 
tainty about the objectives. The existence of a considerable rural over- 
population, the apparent over-production, and the growing belief that 
industrial stagnation could never be broken, brought about a wide-spread 
feeling that the only solution would be to let the excess population on the 
rural farms establish themselves on a basis of almost complete self-suf- 
ficiency. The feeling that small owners have difficulties in surviving without 
an elaborate system of agricultural cooperation was behind the organiza- 
tion of resettlements, where clients were given the chance of becoming 
owners while engaged in certain cooperative activities. Certain doubts as to 
whether ownership is really the best form of tenure for the small farmer 
explain the organization of settlements of rental cooperatives which are 
particularly favored by the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. 76 These 
settlements of various kinds, however, since they are expensive to organize 
and since many of them have both Negro and white clients working 
together on the same footing, have caused much resentment in the South. 
Therefore, this particular part of the program, except for the rental coopera- 
tives, is not being pushed any more. 

Already before 1935, during the period of the Federal Emergency Relief 
Administration (F.E.R.A.), it occurred to some interested persons that it 
would be far better to help needy rural families, who were competent and 
willing to work, to grow their own food and earn a little cash income on 
farms, rather than to give them -cash doles. A program to this end was 
inaugurated in 1934." The activity was soon taken over by the Resettle- 
ment Administration and, later, together with certain related programs 
started by other agencies, by the Farm Security Administration, which was 
instituted in 1937. 

The so-called rehabilitation program, which includes assistance of various 
kinds on an individual basis, takes up the major part of the work and the 
appropriations of the F.S.A. The total amount of loans made under this 
program until the middle of 1941 was $574,000,000} the grants amounted 
to $132,000,000. The South, although containing more than half of the 
rural farm population — and an even greater part of those in need of this 
assistance — has received less than half (43 per cent) of the loans and 



Chapter 12. New Blows to Southern Agriculture 277 

grants. 78 By December, 1939, there were in the South 1 54,000 white and 
45,000 Negro "standard rehabilitation borrowers." Thus, while more than 
one-fourth of the Southern rural farm population is Negro, the number of 
Negroes on the program constituted a somewhat smaller proportion (23 
per cent) of the total number of clients. Compared with the total estimated 
number of white and colored farm families which either were on relief or 
had an income of less than $500, the participation in the program amounted 
to 22 per cent of the whites and 1 1 per cent of the Negroes. This suggests 
that a low-income white family has had about twice the chance of a Negro 
family in the same circumstances of being accepted on the program. Too, 
the average amount of loan advances was somewhat higher for white 
($659) than for colored ($606) clients.™ 

It is true that not all of these discrepancies are due to "direct discrimina- 
tion." The selection of clients and the size of the loans do not depend on 
need alone. Even in the Farm Security work great attention is given to the 
credit rating of the individual client, and since Negroes start out with much 
smaller average resources than do whites, they are more likely to be 
excluded from the program and less likely to receive large loans. 80 Such 
an application of "business principles" in relief work, however, can well be 
called "indirect discrimination," for it must have been obvious from the 
beginning that it would limit the opportunity to give the Negro a share 
of the benefits which would correspond to his relative needs. Moreover, 
there is definite evidence that Negro clients have been selected in a much 
more cautious manner than have white clients. Although their gross cash 
income during 1939 was 40 per cent lower than that of white clients in the 
South, their repayment record was a slightly better one. The absolute 
amount repaid on the loans actually was almost the same in both cases 
(about $250). The net income of the Negro clients was rather low — less 
than $100 in cash and about $240 in home-use production — whereas the 
corresponding figures for white clients were about $200 and $275, respec- 
tively. Both groups of clients bettered their conditions to a considerable 
extent during the time they were on the program — Negroes relatively more 
than whites. 81 

The other F.S.A. programs are rather insignificant, as far as Negroes are 
concerned. By mid- 1940 there were less than 2,000 Negro families on vari- 
ous types of F.S.A. settlements and rental cooperatives. They constituted 
roughly one-fourth of all such families in the South. About 1,900 Negro 
families were on the so-called tenant-purchase program; there were four 
times as many white families in the South on the same program. 83 Thus, 
there was about the same amount of discrimination in these cases as in the 
rehabilitation work. In the last year (1 941-1942), however, the F.S.A. 
has provided camps for migrant agricultural workers in various parts of 
the North, and Negroes get a considerable share of these facilities. 



278 An American Dilemma 

Nobody who has had any contact with those doing field work for the 
Farm Security Administration can escape becoming impressed by these 
attempts to rehabilitate farm families by making up plans for almost every 
aspect of the farm-and-household economy and by "helping the clients to 
help themselves." Attempts are made to introduce written contracts of more 
than one year's duration for the clients who are tenants — the so-called flexi- 
ble farm lease. Most tenants on the rehabilitation program have such leases 
with their landlords. 83 States are urged to adopt legislation for this pur- 
pose — so far, however, without any success as far as the South is con- 
cerned. 84 The Farm Security work, after this period of rather diversified 
experimentation, has provided the kind of practical administrative experi- 
ence which would be needed for a major reform of land and tenure condi- 
tions. But it is not likely that there will be enough popular backing for such 
a system in the South — until the Southern farm population has been hit by 
at least one more major economic crisis. The coming post-war crisis might 
furnish this needed impetus. 



CHAPTER 13 

SEEKING JOBS OUTSIDE AGRICULTURE 

^rtMwmiiiimHiwiliiwuMiiiiiiiiii lii»iinwiiiiHiinniiiiinHiiiMmimiHiiiliiiiiiiiliiwiiwimiwiiHNi 

i. Perspective on the Urbanization of the Negro People 

Only a part of the present farm population in the South has any future 
on the land. This is particularly true of the Negro farm population, as has 
been amply demonstrated in the preceding chapter. It is necessary to remind 
the reader of this important fact. For outside a limited group of experts, 
few white people realize that, already, almost two-thirds of the Negroes 
live in nonfarm areas, and that eventually all Negroes, except for a small 
minority, will have to become integrated into the nonagricultural economy 
of America. Even the experts, including Negro college teachers in agricul- 
ture, seem to have an exaggerated belief in the Negro's possibilities in 
Southern agriculture. More generally, there is a widespread attitude in 
the cities that the Negro ought to stay where he belongs — on the Southern 
farm land. The nonfarm parts of the country simply do not want to accept 
the responsibility for Negroes who previously have made their living in 
agriculture. This protectionist attitude is not typical of Americans only. 
Nor is it confined to the Negro problem alone. In America, as well as in 
many other countries, there are strong tendencies to build walls around 
one's own community in order to keep out all sorts of low income people 
who would press down wage levels, add to the housing shortage and pos- 
sibly become liabilities in public relief. The recent tendency to make 
residence requirements for relief more severe is only one of the devices 
used in this policy of social protectionism. 

There is no doubt, however, that this attitude is especially pronounced in 
regard to rural Negroes from the South. Because of the decadence of agri- 
culture and the constitutional impossibility of raising barriers against inter- 
nal migration, this attitude will not be able to stop the gradual urbanization 
of the Negro people. As we saw in Chapter 8, this has been going on all the 
time, and since the First World War the Negro farm population has 
actually been declining because of migration. But the popular attitude that 
the Negroes had better stay where they are has given, and will probably 
continue to give, a basis for segregation and discrimination both in housing 
and in employment. It even tends to perpetuate the ignorance about Negroes 
by making everyone want to look the other way. The belief that the agri- 

*79 



280 An American Dilemma 

cultural South can still accept the main responsibility for the Negroes is a 
most important ingredient in the "pass-the-buck" mentality which we 
touched upon in Chapter 2. 

In this chapter we shall sketch in broadest outlines the history of the 
Negro breadwinner outside agriculture and attempt to ascertain where, in 
more recent times, he has entered industry or has remained unemployed. 
The sketch is largely based on the facts presented in Appendix 6. The. 
reader who has a special interest in these things will find all the material 
of this chapter set forth in greater detail in Appendix 6." In Chapter 17 
we shall discuss in more general terms the several adverse factors which a 
Negro encounters when he tries to gain entrance into industry. 

2. In the South 

Slavery, and the concomitant suppression of free Negroes, gave to 
Southern Negroes a degree of monopoly on labor for a few years after the 
Civil War. This was the situation not only on the rural plantations but — 
excepting areas where Negroes constituted but a minority of the popula- 
tion — in most other types of unskilled work as well. Unskilled work was 
tainted with inferiority. Negroes were the domestics and the laborers. 
Negroes were also, to a large extent, the craftsmen and the mechanics. 
They were carpenters, bricklayers, painters, blacksmiths, harness makers, 
tailors and shoemakers. For even skilled labor was degraded, and whites 
had often been denied the opportunity of acquiring training since so many 
masters had preferred to work with slaves. The high price paid for skilled 
slaves had encouraged their training in the crafts. 1 Thomas Nelson Page 
says: 

In 1865, when the Negro was set free, he held without a rival the entire field 

of industrial labor throughout the South. Ninety-five per cent of all the industrial 

* Appendix 6 is based mainly on a research memorandum, "Negro Labor and Its Problems," 
prepared for this study (1940) by Paul H. Norgrcn. Collaborating with Dr. Norgren were 
Lloyd H. Bailer, James Healy, Herbert R, Northrup, Gladys L. Palmer, and Arnold M. 
Rose. 

No references will be given when statements in the text are based on Appendix 6. 

The literature on the Negro wage earner, although it contains much material that we have 
not used in this brief summary, is characterized by a certain lack of balance. While great 
attention has been given to many small industries, particularly when, during recent decades, 
they have given an increased share of the jobs to Negroes (e.g., the meat-packing and 
slaughtering industry), other occupations where a much larger number of Negro workers 
are employed seem to have been largely overlooked. This is true, for instance, about truck, 
transfer, and cab companies which had 41,000 Negro workers in 1930. It is true also of 
the menial occupations in wholesale and retail establishments (laborers, porters, and helpers 
in stores, janitors, chauffeurs, truck drivers, delivery men, elevator tenders, charwomen, 
and so on) which, in 1930, included over 110,000 Negro w< rkers. (IT. S. Bureau of the 
Census, Negroes in t/ie United States: 1910-1933, pp. 354-357.) Perhaps even more 
significant would be an intensive study of Negro exclusion in those lines of work where 
few, if"any, Negroes are employed. 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 281 

work of the Southern States was in his hand. And he was fully competent to do it. 
Every adult was either a skilled laborer or a trained mechanic. 3 

This is a considerable exaggeration. There was, outside agriculture, a 
fairly large white laboring class, too. And the great majority of Negroes, 
even in the cities, were domestics and unskilled laborers. But, skilled or 
unskilled, their protection was that their work was characterized as "Negro 
jobs" and was usually badly paid. 

Right from the beginning the Negroes' position in the Southern non- 
agricultural labor market has been influenced by two forces or trends of 
change working in opposite directions. One force is the general expansion 
of the Southern nonagricultural economy. This tends constantly to increase 
the employment opportunities for Negroes as well as for whites. The other 
force is the competition from white job-seekers. This tends to exclude 
Negroes from employment and to press them downward in the occupational 
hierarchy. Regarding the second trend, it should be observed that there 
had been plenty of racial competition before the Civil War. White artisans 
had often vociferously protested against the use of Negroes for skilled 
work in the crafts. But as long as the politically most powerful group of 
whites had a vested interest in Negro mechanics, the protesting was of little 
avail. Even many of the free Negroes had their white protectors. After 
Emancipation the Negro artisan was on his own. His former master did 
not have the same interest in protecting him against white competitors. 
White men usually had little economic interest in having the young Negro 
trained for skilled work. 

In some cases there were still personal ties between the former slave 
owners and their ex-slaves. The Black Codes and the dependent status 
of the Negro still made him amenable to exploitation. But all this could 
only cushion the effects of Emancipation. It was unthinkable that the white 
class of ex-masters would protect the Negroes against their white com- 
petitors in the same manner as they had done earlier. Many of them were 
impoverished because of the War. Their places were taken by other whites 
who had not been brought up in the tradition of "caring for their Negroes." 
Many of them actually shared the competitive viewpoints of the white 
working class. This was true for the most part of those contractors, for 
instance, who rose from the class of white building workers. Generally, the 
Civil War, the Emancipation, the Reconstruction, and the Restoration were 
all characterized by a trend toward a consolidation of white interests. And 
the poorer classes of whites got more of a say, at least as far as the "place" 
of the Negro was concerned. 

The result of this pressure is well known and often discussed by both 
whites and Negroes in the South. Examples of how Negroes have been 
driven out from one kind of a job after another are constantly being 
pointed out. There seems to be a definite pattern in this process. It starts 



280 An American Dilemma 

cultviral South can still accept the main responsibility for the Negroes is a 
most important ingredient in the "pass-the-buck" mentality which we 
touched upon in Chapter 2. 

In this chapter we shall sketch in broadest outlines the history of the 
Negro breadwinner outside agriculture and attempt to ascertain where, in 
more recent times, he has entered industry or has remained unemployed. 
The sketch is largely based on the facts presented in Appendix 6. The, 
reader who has a special interest in these things will find all the material 
of this chapter set forth in greater detail in Appendix 6." In Chapter 17 
we shall discuss in more general terms the several adverse factors which a 
Negro encounters when he tries to gain entrance into industry. 

2. In the South 

Slavery, and the concomitant suppression of free Negroes, gave to 
Southern Negroes a degree of monopoly on labor for a few years after the 
Civil War. This was the situation not only on the rural plantations but — 
excepting areas where Negroes constituted but a minority of the popula- 
tion — in most other types of unskilled work as well. Unskilled work was 
tainted with inferiority. Negroes were the domestics and the laborers. 
Negroes were also, to a large extent, the craftsmen and the mechanics. 
They were carpenters, bricklayers, painters, blacksmiths, harness makers, 
tailors and shoemakers. For even skilled labor was degraded, and whites 
had often been denied the opportunity of acquiring training since so many 
masters had preferred to work with slaves. The high price paid for skilled 
slaves had encouraged their training in the crafts. 1 Thomas Nelson Page 
says: 

In 1865, when the Negro was set free, he held without a rival the entire field 

of industrial labor throughout the South. Ninety-five per cent of all the industrial 

* Appendix 6 is based mainly on a research memorandum, "Negro Labor and Its Problems," 
prepared for this study (1940) by Paul H. Norgren. Collaborating with Dr. Norgren were 
Lloyd H. Sailer, James Healy, Herbert R, Northrup, Gladys L. Palmer, and Arnold M. 
Rose. 

No references will be given when statements in the text are based on Appendix 6. 

The literature on the Negro wage earner, although it contains much material that we have 
not used in this brief summary, is characterized by a certain lack of balance. While great 
attention has been given to many small industries, particularly when, during recent decades, 
they have given an increased share of the jobs to Negroes (e.g., the meat-packing and 
slaughtering industry), other occupations where a much larger number of Negro workers 
are employed seem to have been largely overlooked. This is true, for instance, about truck, 
transfer, and cab companies which had 41,000 Negro workers in 1930. It is true also of 
the menial occupations in wholesale and retail establishments (laborers, porters, and helpers 
in stores, janitors, chauffeurs, truck drivers, delivery men, elevator tenders, charwomen, 
and so on) which, in 1930, included over 110,000 Negro wi rkers. (I!. S. Bureau of the 
Census, Negroes in the United States: 1910-1932, pp. 354-357.) Perhaps even more 
significant would be an intensive study of Negro exclusion in those lines of work where 
few, if* any, Negroes are employed. 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 281 

work of the Southern States was in his hand. And he was fully competent to do it. 
Every adult was either a skilled laborer or a trained mechanic. 2 

This is a considerable exaggeration. There was, outside agriculture, a 
fairly large white laboring class, too. And the great majority of Negroes, 
even in the cities, were domestics and unskilled laborers. But, skilled or 
unskilled, their protection was that their work was characterized as "Negro 
jobs" and was usually badly paid. 

Right from the beginning the Negroes' position in the Southern non- 
agricultural labor market has been influenced by two forces or trends of 
change working in opposite directions. One force is the general expansion 
of the Southern nonagricultural economy. This tends constantly to increase 
the employment opportunities for Negroes as well as for whites. The other 
force is the competition from white job-seekers. This tends to exclude 
Negroes from employment and to press them downward in the occupational 
hierarchy. Regarding the second trend, it should be observed that there 
had been plenty of racial competition before the Civil War. White artisans 
had often vociferously protested against the use of Negroes for skilled 
work in the crafts. But as long as the politically most powerful group of 
whites had a vested interest in Negro mechanics, the protesting was of little 
avail. Even many of the free Negroes had their white protectors. After 
Emancipation the Negro artisan was on his own. His former master did 
not have the same interest in protecting him against white competitors. 
White men usually had little economic interest in having the young Negro 
trained for skilled work. 

In some cases there were still personal tics between the former slave 
owners and their ex-slaves. The Black Codes and the dependent status 
of the Negro still made him amenable to exploitation. But all this could 
only cushion the effects of Emancipation. It was unthinkable that the white 
class of ex-masters would protect the Negroes against their white com- 
petitors in the same manner as they had done earlier. Many of them were 
impoverished because of the War. Their places were taken by other whites 
who had not been brought up in the tradition of "caring for their Negroes." 
Many of them actually shared the competitive viewpoints of the white 
working class. This was true for the most part of those contractors, for 
instance, who rose from the class of white building workers. Generally, the 
Civil War, the Emancipation, the Reconstruction, and the Restoration were 
all characterized by a trend toward a consolidation of white interests. And 
the poorer classes of whites got more of a say, at least as far as the "place" 
of the Negro was concerned. 

The result of this pressure is well known and often discussed by both 
whites and Negroes in the South. Examples of how Negroes have been 
driven out from one kind of a job after another are constantly being 
pointed out. There seems to be a definite pattern in this process. It starts 



284 An American Dilemma 

As a laborer, the Negro is not so satisfactory as formerly. The old-time Negro, 
trained in slavery to work, has about passed away and his successor is far less 
efficient and faithful to duty. Lately, large numbers of Negro laborers have shown a 
tendency to leave the farms for work on railroads, in sawmills, and in the cities, 
large numbers migrating to the cities of the North. They like to work in crowds 
and this often results in making more work for the police. 7 

In a relative sense there was an element of truth in those statements, at 
least in so far as fewer and fewer young Negroes could keep up skills when 
they were not allowed to compete under the better working conditions 
and the improved techniques, and when they had difficulty in getting train- 
ing. This was what Booker T. Washington saw when he started out with 
his endeavor to give Negroes vocational training for crafts and trades.' 

All these things are, as we said, much in the foreground of public discus- 
sion in the South. We must ask: How have the rising numbers of urban 
Negroes earned their living when they have had all these factors working 
against them? The explanation is the contrary force or trend, which we 
mentioned earlier: that there has been a great expansion going on in non- 
agricultural industries in the South during most of the time since the Civil 
War. The urbanization of the South has meant, for one thing, that there is 
a growing number of upper and middle class white families in the cities 
who can employ domestic servants. This is especially important since it is 
traditional in the South that every family which can afford it, even down to 
the lower middle class, should have domestic help. The growing industries, 
furthermore, created a considerable number of laboring jobs for Negroes, 
even when they were excluded from the machines. And they did get into 
some industries. 

The employment losses to the Negroes, therefore, have often been 
more relative than absolute. Even if the Negroes were pressed down in 
relative status in the occupational hierarchy, and even if they did not get 
their full share in the number of new jobs so that the proportion of Negroes 
declined, the absolute number of Negroes for the most part increased, 
except in stagnating crafts and industries. At least during parts of the 
period up to the First World War the absolute gains in job opportunities for 
Negroes in the South, in spite of the relative losses, were considerable. Since 
then, however, even those absolute gains have declined drastically. 

3. A Closer View 

From 1890 to 19 10, the total number of white male workers in non- 
agricultural industries in the South more than doubled. The number of 
Negro male workers in nonagricultural pursuits increased by two-thirds, 
or by more than 400,000 (Table i). b The latter increase was due mainly 

"See Chapter 41. ' 

* There are no occupational census data by race prior to 1 (90. 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 285 

to expansion in certain typical "Negro job" industries, such as saw and 
planing mills, coal mining, and maintenance-of-way work on railroads. 8 
From 1910 to 1930, on the other hand, the number of Negro males 
engaged in nonagricultural pursuits in the South increased by less than 
one-third and, in absolute numbers, by less than 300,000. This slowing up 
of the increase of the Negro nonagricultural labor force in the South 
occurred in spite of the general expansion of industry — which was about as 
large as during the previous two decades — and in spite of the fact that the 

TABLE 1 

Number of All Male Worker.* and of Neqro Male Workers in 
Nonagricultural Pursuits, by Section: 1890-1930* 



Number of All Male 
Section Workers (in thousands) 



Number of Negro Male 
Workers (in thousands) 



Negro Workers as 
Percentage of 
All Workers 





1890 


1910 


«93° 


1890 


1910 


1930 


1890 


1910 


»930 


United States 


II.OS3 


19,508 


28,516 


824 


M96 


2,170 


7-5 


7.2 


7.6 


The North 
and West 


9,028 


15,595 


22,179 


I90 b 


350 


831 


2.1 


2.2 


3.8 


The South 


2,025 


3>9>3 


6,337 


634 


1,046 


J. 339 


3". 3 


26.7 


21.1 



Sources: Eleventh Census of the United States: iSgn, Population, Vol. a. Tables 78, 79. 8a and 116; Thirteenth 
Census of the United States: tgxo. Population. Vol. 4, Tables a, s, 6 and 7 ; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical 
Abstract of the United States: 1938, Tables si, 53 and 53; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United 
States: 1020-1032, pp. 303-309. 

• Turpentine farm workers have been consistently included among workers in nonagricultural pursuits, in 
accordance with the procedure adopted in the 1930 Census. In the 1890 Census, however, they were nut 
separated in a special group, but were included in the category "other agricultural pursuits" (Table 70). For 
Southern states, this group contained mainly turpentine workers, but for the Northern states certain other 
occupations predominated. Therefore, the workers included under this heading were considered as nouagricul* 
tural for the Southern states, and as agricultural for other areas. 

b This figure includes a few nonwhite workers other than Negro. 

previous growth in the Negro farm population had been superseded by a 
decline. Also during the 'thirties, as we shall show presently, the Negro 
lost in relative position. This was the more serious because industrial expan- 
sion in the South was now much slower, because there were great losses in 
agricultural employment, and because there were no new openings in the 
North. 

It was of major importance that Negroes were partially excluded as 
ordinary production workers in the textile industry since it developed into 
the South's leading industry. The unimportant textile manufacturing which 
had existed in the South before the Civil War had been based largely on 
Negro labor, partly slave labor. But the new textile industry broke with this 
tradition. It arose as a civic welfare movement to create work for poor 
white people. The Negroes were not needed, as the labor supply of poor 
whites from the agricultural areas and from the mountains was plentiful. 



286 An American Dilemma 

If those white workers were paid low wages and held in great dependence, 
they could at least be offered the consolation of being protected from Negro 
competition. Another factor strengthening the exclusion of Negroes from 
the textile industry was the employment of white women. 

The tobacco industry in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, up to 
the Civil War, had had but a small minority of white workers. After the 
War, however, there were two important innovations which precipitated an 
increase in the proportion of white labor. One was the taking up of a new 
line of manufacturing: that of cigarettes. The other change was the intro- 
duction of machinery. Both these changes gave an excuse for breaking the 
traditional Negro labor monopoly. Much of the work became neat and 
clean, requiring little physical strength, and was adapted to the employment 
of white women. Negroes were retained, however, as stemmers and in other 
laboring jobs. The ratio of Negro to white workers around the turn of the 
century became stabilized at a two-to-one level in these three tobacco-pro- 
ducing states. This ratio seems to have been kept almost constant until 
about 1930, allowing Negroes to share in the general expansion." 

In the skilled building trades, the development had proceeded so far 
by 1890 that white workers were in the majority although they were not 
yet represented by any strong unions in the South. The development has 
continued ever since and the appearance of trade unions in the South helped 
to give the white building workers even greater power in keeping the 
Negro out. They have been particularly successful in the new building trades 
where Negroes had no traditional position. The fact that the proportion of 
Negroes in these trades already by 1890 had been reduced to 25 per cent 
or less in the Upper and Lower South made it comparatively easy for the 
organized white workers to disregard the interests of the Negro workers. 

In the trowel trades (bricklayers, masons, plasterers, and cement fin- 
ishers), on the other hand, the situation is somewhat different. Negroes had 
managed to retain a large proportion of the jobs when unionization began 
in the South, and it is probable that it was this circumstance which forced 
the organizations in these trades to take a more friendly attitude toward 
Negroes. Discrimination may occur locally, but the national leadership 
occasionally takes action against such practices. The proportion of Negroes 
in these trades — roughly one-half in the Upper and Lower South — has 
remained relatively unchanged during the whole period between 1900 and 
1930. The situation is similar in unskilled building work. Negroes and 

"This and the subsequent discussion concerning occupational trends from 1890 to 1930 
is based on the following sources: Eleventh Census of the United States: 1890. Population, 
Vol. a, Table u6j Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910, Population, Vol. 4, 
Tables i, 6 and 7 s Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, Vol. Ill, Part 1, 
p. 23, and State Table 1 o, Parti 1 and a j Vol. IV, State Table 1 1. See, also, various sources 
cited in Appendix 6. 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 287 

whites are usually organized in the same locals even in the South, and race 
relations in these unions are often comparatively amicable. Nevertheless, 
there has been a decline in the proportion of Negro, workers in Southern 
states. But Negroes are probably still in the majority in the Upper and 
Lower South. Taking the building industry in the entire country as a whole, 
there was a decrease even in the absolute number of Negro workers between 
1910 and 1930, in spite of the fact that the total man-power remained 
unchanged, and although the migration of Negroes to the North broadened 
the market for their services. 8 

Comparing 19 10 and 1930, one finds that, except for a temporary boom 
during the First World War, the expansion had ceased in some of the most 
significant "Negro job" industries, such as saw and planing mills, turpen- 
tine farms and maintenance-of-way work on railroads. This was one of the 
main reasons why the general expansion in job opportunities for Southern 
Negroes was less pronounced during this period than during the previous 
two decades. In the railroad services the number of Negro engineers, which 
had never been large, was reduced to virtually nothing. There was, as we 
mentioned, a decline also in the number of Negro firemen and brakcmen. 
The railroad brotherhoods, most of which exclude Negroes more con- 
sistently than almost any other American trade union, eventually became 
sufficiently powerful to keep the Negroes out of any job which was — or 
which, through technical development, became — attractive enough to be 
desirable to the white man. 

Again Negroes failed to get into most of the new and expanding 
industries in the South. Only one per cent of the workers employed at 
Southern oil and gas wells in 1930 were Negroes. Only as wood cutters 
and in certain other laboring capacities did Negroes get into the paper and 
pulp industry. Gas and electric companies have never used Negroes to any 
appreciable degree. Negroes do not operate streetcars and buses. Tele- 
graph and telephone companies exclude them almost altogether. Furniture 
factories depend in the main on white labor. The vast expansion in whole- 
sale and retail trade, banking, insurance, and brokerage benefited the 
Negroes only in so far as they could be used as delivery men, porters, 
janitors, charwomen and so on. The policy of excluding them from 
production jobs in the textile factories continued. 

There were not many lines of work in which Negroes made any appreci- 
able gains during this period. Coal mines and steel mills continued to expand 
in the South, and the Negroes had employment gains from their expan- 
sion. The same was true of longshore work where Negroes traditionally 
had such a dominant position in the South that the trade unions never could 
exclude them to any significant degree, even though there was some local 
discrimination. Fertilizer factories, which constitute one of the most typical 
"Negro job" industries, showed a particularly rapid expansion between 



288 An American Dilemma 

i 9 io and 1930, but this industry is too small and too seasonal to provide 
much steady employment. There were some cases where Negroes shared in 
the expansion brought about by motorization: The number of Negro 
teamsters, truck drivers and chauffeurs increased. So did the number of 
Negro maintenance and construction workers on streets, highways, sewers 
and so on. Yet the white labor force in those occupations increased even 

TABLE 2 

Changes in Population and in Male Labor Force in 
Selected Northern and Southern Cities: 1930-1940* 





Percentage of Negroes in 


Percentage Increase or Decrease (-) 
1930-1940 


Group of Cities 


Total 
Population 


Male Labor 
Force 
14 years and Over Negroes 


Whites 




1930 1940 


1 930 1 940 


Total Male 
Popu- Labor 
lation Force 


Total 
Popu- 
lation 


Male 
Labor 
Force 


11 Northern Cities 
15 Southern Cities 


7.2 8.6 
25.7 26.9 


7-6 7-8 
27-7 25.4 


22.8 1.9 
20.7 12.1 


1.6 


-0.1 
13.3 



Source: Sixteenth Census of the United Stales: 1040. Papulation, Second Serifs, State Table 4.1. 

* The labor force figures for 1930 refer to the number of gainful workers. The concept of gainful worker 
in the 1930 Census was approximately the same as that of labor force in the 1940 Census; both include unem- 
ployed workers. The cities included in the table are: 

In the North: New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, 
Detroit, St. Louis and Kansas City (Missouri), 

In the South: Louisville, Baltimore. Washington, D.C., Richmond. Norfolk. .Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami 
Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Houston and Dallas. 

more. Soon the white workers were in the majority in these traditional 
Negro jobs. Rather limited, also, were the employment gains Negroes 
derived from the appearance of filling and greasing stations, garages, auto- 
mobile agencies and automobile factories in the South. In 1930 only about 
one-tenth of all workers at such establishments were Negroes. 

4. Southern Trends During the 'Thirties 

So far we have discussed, mainly, the development in the South up to 
about 1930. The depression during the 'thirties hit the industrial economy 
in the South much less severely than in the North, the reason being that 
the South had fewer heavy industries and that the secular trend of 
industrialization moves more definitely upward in the South than in the 
rest of the nation. The number of wage earners employed in manufactur- 
ing industries was 1.6 per cent higher in the South in 1939 than in 1929, 
whereas, the nation as a whole showed a decrease of 10.6 per cent. 10 Even 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 289 

so the industrial depression was a serious matter in the South, particularly 
for Negroes." 

Since Negroes, during the 'thirties, were driven out of agriculture at a 
more rapid rate than were the white farm workers in the South,* there 
is nothing surprising in the fact that the large and middle-sized cities in the 
South showed a greater increase of the Negro than of the white popula- 
tion (Table 2). Negro farm workers, who had been forced out of employ- 
ment in rural areas, sooner or later had to go to the cities, which offered 
varied, even if scarce, employment opportunities. A large labor market 
always seems to offer a chance; in a plantation area where farm workers 
are dismissed there is no hope left. Also there were more liberal relief 
standards in the cities than in rural areas. 

The more rapid increase of the Negro than the white urban popula- 
tion in the South during the 'thirties meant that an earlier trend had been 
broken. During previous decades, when migratory outlets for Negroes in the 
North had been more ample, there had been a definite decline in the 
proportion of Negroes in the urban South. 11 In spite of this changing popu- 
lation trend, however, Negroes continued to lose in importance as an ele- 
ment in Southern urban labor. While the white male "labor force" — 
including unemployed as well as employed workers — increased at about the 
same rate as the white population, the Negro labor force did not expand 
even as much as the number of employed white workers. Thus, although 
the proportion of Negroes in the population showed an increase in the 
urban South, there was a decline in the percentage of Negro workers 
in the total male labor force. Undoubtedly the proportion of unemployed 
among Negro workers in the South increased more than that among white 
workers during the Great Depression, even if there are no reliable statistics 
available to prove it. 12 

The general increase in unemployment during the 'thirties made white 
workers try even more to "drive the Negroes out." That this is one of the 
main factors behind the continued decline in the proportion of Negro 
workers in nonagricultural pursuits seems even more probable when we 
study the data for specific industries in Tabic 3. To be sure, we have to be 
cautious in interpreting these figures, for certain technical improvements 
introduced in the 1940 Census make it difficult to trace the development 
during the previous decade. Yet we can scarcely be mistaken in the observa- 
tion that the relative position of the Negro in Southern industry has 
deteriorated further during the 'thirties. 

The textile industry continued to grow tremendously, 13 but only 26,000 
out of its 635,000 Southern workers in 1940 were Negroes. Food manu- 

* See the unemployment rates by race presented in Table 6 of this chapter. 
"See Chapter 11. 

* See the footnote* to Table 3. 



a*?© 



An American Dilemma 

TABLE 3 



Number amd Proportion or Nonwhite Workers in Selected Industries, 1940; 

AND NeOROKS At A PERCENTAGE Or THE GAINFUL WORKERS, I93O— W THE SoVTH 



Industry 



Nonwhite Employed 
Workers in 1940 



Number 



Percentage 
of All Races» 



Percentage of 

Negroes Among 

GainfulWorkers 

in I930 b 



8. 

9- 

to. 



1,026 

108,68$ 

37,39° 


0.9 
17.8 
15.8 


1. a 

22.2 
I9.I 


96,134 
33.'°i 


4-1 

33-S 


6.6 

19.2 


156,468 
9,802 
5,»39 


36.8 

19.1 

5-o 


37-6 
17.8 

4-5 



16. 
17. 

1 8. 
19. 

20. 
21. 



Coalmining 34.949 'S-9 '9-4 

Crude petroleum and natural gas produc- 
tion 

Construction 

Food and kindred products 

Textile-milt products; apparel and other 
fabricated textile products 

Chemicals and allied products 

Logging, sawmills and planing mills; furni- 
ture, store fixtures and miscellaneous 
wooden goods 

Paper and allied products 

Printing, publishing and allied industries 

Iron and steel and their products; machin- 
ery; transportation equipment, except 
automobiles 4°, ,( ^9 14-9 18.5 

Automobiles and automobile equipment; 
motor vehicles and accessories, retailing, 
and filling stations; automobile storage, 
rental, and repair services 45,855 144 11.7 

Railroads (including railroad repair shops 
and railway express service) 

Trucking service 

Utilities 

Wholesale trade; food and dairy products 
stores and milk retailing; other retail 
trade 

Finance, insurance and real estate 

Professional and related services 

Government 

Hotels and lodging places; eating and 
drinking places 

Laundering, cleaning and dyeing services 

Domestic service; miscellaneous personal 
services 837,687 70.9 76.7 



62,997 
15,856 
14,678 


21.0 
15.6 
12.5 


25.0 

(c) 

(c) 


146,402 

136,500 
29,884 


10.6 
n.s 
16.8 

5-4 


10.4 

15.0 
(c) 


129,862 
43.973 


3».» 
34-6 


39-8 
40.1 



Sources: Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930. Population. Vol. 3. Part r. p. 13; Sixteenth Cent** of 
the United States: 1940. Population, Second Series. State Table !8a and (8b. 

• The comparability between the data for 1030 and 1940, in some cases, is affected by changes in the 
industrial classification. In order to overcome this difficulty, as far as possible, we have added together cer- 
tain of the original groups. The iron, steel, machinery, and transportation equipment groups in the 1040 Census 
have been compared with the total for the following 1930 groups: "blast furnaces and steel rolling mills"; 
"electrical machinery and supply factories," "other tron and steel industries." (This means, however, that 
workers in ear and railroad shops have been included in the 1930 figures for the steel group, whereas in 1040 
most of them were counted as railroad workers.) Construction is compared with the total for "building 
industry" and "construction and maintenance of streets, roads, and sewers in the 1930 Census. In regard to 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 291 

facturing expanded, but Negroes did not get their full share in the employ- 
ment gains. The same was true about hotels, lodging places, restaurants, 
and of laundering, cleaning, and dyeing establishments, where the pro- 
portion of Negro workers declined to about one-third. The contraction of 
railroad employment during the 'thirties made Negroes lose heavily, 
probably even more than did the white workers. In the iron and steel group 
they also declined, absolutely as well as in relation to the whites. There is 
no indication of any gain for the Negroes in coal mining, construction, saw- 
mills or other woodworking industries. It seems that they did share, how- 
ever, in the expansion in paper, pulp, printing, publishing, and allied 
industries, but the total number of Negro workers in these groups was not 
higher than 15,000 in 1940. Domestic service, which is the most important 
of all "Negro job" industries, seems to have had but a limited expansion 
during the 'thirties, and it is doubtful whether the Negro gained anything 
at all, although he still holds a practical monopoly in the South. 

5. In the North 

At the close of the Civil War the Negro wage earner in the North had a 
quite different position than in the South.* The mere fact that there were 
few Negroes in the North implied that no occupations could take on the 
character of "Negro jobs." There had not been slavery in the Northern 
states for some two generations. The Negroes, therefore, had not been 
protected in their jobs by the vested interests of a white master class. The 
competition from white workers had always been intense. 14 In most indus- 
trial and commercial centers of the North where there were any appreciable 
number of Negroes, the three decades prior to the Civil War saw recur- 
rent race riots, growing out of this competition for jobs. In the few 
localities in the North where Negroes actually had come to monopolize 
certain types of work, their exclusion had thus started much earlier. In 
1853 Frederick Douglass complained: 

Every hour tees the black man [in the North] elbowed out of employment by 
some newly arrived immigrant whose hunger and whose color are thought to give 

lumber and lumber products, the total for the groups "logging." "sawmills and planing mills," and "furniture 
(tore fixtures, and miscellaneous wooden goods" was compared with the 1930 total for "forestry," "saw and 
planing, mills." and "other woodworking and furniture industries." This procedure was recommended by 
Dr. Philip M. Hauler, Acting Chief Statistician for Population. Bureau of the Census (letter of May 8, 1942). 
Certain other minor rearrangements are self-explanatory, since the descriptions in the stub consist of the cate- 
gory titles which comprise the given industry groups in the 1040 Census classification, and from this the 
comparable 1930 categories may be determined by inspection. 

Although the table probably gives a fairly correct general impression — at least if one considers the further 
Qualifications presented in footnote (b) — the comparison is not quite exact in every detail. The increase in 
the proportion of Negroes in banks, insurance, and real estate companies, for instance, may depend, at least in 
part, on changes in the classification. 

b Gainful workers in 1930 included unemployed workers. Since Negroes are usually unemployed to a 
greater extent than whites, the proportion of Negro workers may not necessarily have changed if the figure 
m column 3 is slightly below that in *•"'■■«"" 4. A difference of several percentage points, however, probably 
indicates a real change. 

• Comparable data not available. 

* The paucity of statistical or other reliable sources for earlier decades makes it necessary 
for us to be somewhat vague in several of the following statements. 



292 An American Dilemma 

him a better title to the place; and to we believe it will continue to be until the 
last prop is leveled beneath us — white men are becoming house servants, cooks, and 
stewards on vessels; at hotels, they are becoming porters . . . and barbers — a few 
years ago a white barber would have been a curiosity. Now their poles stand on every 
street . . . ls 

The constant stream of European immigrants to the North continuously 
provided new supplies of cheap labor which competed with Negro labor for 
even the lower jobs such as domestics and common laborers. The trade 
unions were early stronger in the North than in the South and they were 
concentrated in the crafts. Most of the time they effectively kept Negroes 
out of skilled work. 10 They could do it the more successfully as the North- 
ern Negroes did not have the head start which the handicraft training under 
slavery gave the Southern Negroes. 

Having all these things in mind, it is easy to explain why it early became 
a stereotyped opinion that, as far as the chance to earn a living was con- 
cerned, the Negro was actually better off in the South than in the North. 
This opinion, for natural reasons, became particularly cherished by Southern 
whites. Henry W. Grady emphasized that the Negro "has ten avenues of 
employment in this section [the South] where he has one in the North." 17 
And Edgar G. Murphy declared: 

The race prejudice is ... as intense at the North as it is anywhere in the world. 
. . . The negro at the North can be a waiter in hotel and restaurant (in some) ; he 
can be a butler or footman in club or household (in some); or the haircutter or 
bootblack in the barber shop (in some); and 1 say "in some" because even the more 
menial offices of industry are being slowly but gradually denied to him. 18 

Booker T. Washington regularly endorsed this view, and it had a 
strategic importance in his whole philosophy, particularly in his educational 
program: 

. . . whatever other sins the South may be called upon to bear, when it comes to 
business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance 
in the commercial world . . .** 

Much the same thing is often told the observer in the South today, when 
it most certainly is an exaggeration. But even for earlier times the proposi- 
tion sounds questionable. We do not have the comprehensive statistics which 
would be necessary to ascertain how the two regions actually compared in 
the opportunities they offered Negroes during various periods. Much 
scattered information, however, gives an impression quite different from 
the Southern stereotype. In a general way, the tremendous industrial 
development in the North and the small number of Negroes compared to 
the total labor demand were factors which worked to the Negroes' advan- 
tage. If we look over the whole period from the Civil War up to 1940, 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 293 

the general picture is that, while the Negroes in the South have been 
gradually losing out in most lines of work where they had been firmly 
entrenched at the time of slavery and have been allowed to get a favorable 
position in but a few of the new industries, Negroes in the North have 
made some fairly significant gains in some occupations which are new or 
where few if any Negroes were allowed to work before. Still Negroes are 
completely, or almost completely, kept out of many manufacturing lines 
in the North. 

The employment gains of Northern Negroes are not a result of a regular 
trend. It would be much nearer the truth to characterize them as a series 
of unique happenings. Some of the Northern employers started hiring 
Negroes on a large scale, as previously explained, 11 mainly because of the 
temporary scarcity of labor, due to the booms during the First World War 
and the 'twenties, and to the decline in immigration. The Negro, along 
with the Southern white worker, actually was the "last immigrant" to 
the North. At that time there was a much greater need for unskilled labor 
than is the case nowadays. Then, too, white workers, in so far as they did 
not come from the South, had little race prejudice. Later many of them 
developed a deep race prejudice. 

Thus, it was a combination of factors which explains the Negroes' gains 
in the North — but a combination that could not last. The same was true 
about some of the secondary motives which induced employers to use 
Negro labor. Many of them wanted to keep their labor force heterogene- 
ous so as to prevent unionization. Some of them even used Negroes as strike- 
breakers. This had happened several times before the First World War. 
In many of these cases Negro workers were dismissed when the labor 
conflict was ended. But, sometimes — particularly between 19 10 and 1930 — 
they actually managed to gain a foothold in this way. The motives of these 
employers, however, could be significant only as long as they believed that 
there was a possibility of keeping the unions away from their plants. Now 
they are gradually getting away from this belief and have no reasons to 
engage Negro labor for this purpose. 

6. A Closer View on Northern Trends 

Between 1890 and 19 10 the increase in number of male Negro workers 
in the North was only about 160,000 (Table 1). Apart from the service 
occupations (domestics, laundresses, cooks, waiters, janitors, barbers, and 
so on) there were in 19 10 no particular occupations where Negroes were 
concentrated. The largest proportion of Negroes in any of the nonservice 
groups was in the category "general and not specified laborers," many of 
whom were construction workers j others may have been merely "jacks-of- 
all-trades." Other groups including a few thousand Negro workers were: 

' See Chapter 8. 



294 An American Dilemma 

farm laborers; helpers in building and hand trades; road and street 
laborers; draymen and teamsters; delivery men and helpers in stores; 
dressmakers and seamstresses. There were some Negro longshoremen in 
New York and Pennsylvania; coal miners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and 
Illinois; iron and steel workers in Pennsylvania. By and large, however, 
the Negro had scarcely any place at all in ordinary manufacturing industries 
in the North. 20 

Between 1910 and 1930, on the other hand, the number of male Negro 
workers in nonagricultural pursuits in the North increased by no less than 
480,000 (Table 1). This means that the Negro male labor force in the 
North more than doubled. Even the absolute increase was much larger than 
that in the South (about 295,000). 

Most of the increase occurred in the nonmanufacturing groups: domestic 
and nondomestic service workers, helpers and delivery men in stores, 
draymen, teamsters, truck drivers, and so on. The building industry gave 
the Negro many additional jobs despite the fact that many craft unions 
were almost as hostile to the Negro in the North as they were in the South. 
Indeed, by 1930 almost half of the Negro building workers were in the 
North. Some gains were made in street and road construction work, as in 
the maintenance-of-way departments of the railroads. The proportion of 
Negro longshoremen increased in New York and Philadelphia. Garages, 
greasing stations, and automobile laundries in the North gave more new 
jobs to Negroes than did corresponding establishments in the South. The 
number of Negro coal miners in Pennsylvania quadrupled, even causing 
some displacement of white workers; still the Negroes did not constitute 
even 3 per cent of the total labor force in Pennsylvania coal mines by 1930. 
The bulk of the Negro mine workers remained in the South. 21 

In addition, Negroes managed, almost for the first time, to get a real 
place in certain purely manufacturing lines in the North. The gains were 
particularly noteworthy in the iron, steel, machinery and vehicle industries. 
In 1930, over 100,000, or about 60 per, cent of all Negro workers in this 
group, were in the North. The majority of them were working in blast 
furnaces, steel rolling mills and automobile factories. Much less significant, 
but nevertheless noteworthy, were the gains in clothing industries and 
certain food industries, particularly slaughter and meat-packing houses. 

But most other Northern manufacturing industries failed to hire Negro 
workers in any appreciable numbers. The Negro wage earner in the North 
has little or no chance in textile factories, sawmills, electrical machinery 
and supply factories, shoe factories, bakeries, or furniture factories — to 
mention just a few examples of the numerous Northern manufacturing lines 
where the Negro has been unable to get in. Only in exceptional cases did 
Northern railroads use him for other than unskilled jobs. He was not 
hired by the utility companies. Thus, even in the North, the Negro 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 295 

remained confined to certain jobs — either those where he had earlier 
acquired something of a traditional position or where he managed to gain 
a foothold during the extraordinary labor market crisis of the First World 
War. a 

This should be emphasized: large employment gains for Negroes in the 
North — except for the present war boom — occurred only daring the short 
period from the First World War until the end of the 'twenties. During 
the 'thirties (Table 2), the upward trend in number of Negro workers was 
broken even more definitely than was the case in the urban South — and this 
in spite of the fact that the Negro population in the large Northern centers 
of Negro concentration increased by as much as 23 per cent between 1930 
and 1940. The white population in the urban North, on the other hand, 
was almost stationary, as was the white labor force. Thus, while the pro- 
portion of Negroes in the total population continued to increase, there was 
scarcely any change at all in the relative number of Negro male workers. 
Further, as we shall point out later in this chapter, the unemployment 
among these Negro workers was much greater in the North than in the 
South. 

All this is explainable on several grounds. The depression hit the North 
worse than the South. Nevertheless, Negroes continued to go North to 
such an extent that the relative increase in the Negro urban population was 
even greater in the North than in the South. As pointed out in Chapter 8, 
this cannot mean anything but that, once the isolation had been broken and 
the northward migration had become a pattern, Negroes continued to go 
North whether or not there were any employment openings for them there. 
In addition to the general difference in social conditions — less segregation, 
greater legal security, superior educational and hospital facilities, higher 
earnings if any jobs are to be had, and so on — the North offers much more 
public relief to Negroes in economic distress than does the South. 6 This fact 
has undoubtedly been behind much of the Negro migration to the North 
during the 'thirties/' Also, as in the South, public relief has contributed to 
the decline in the proportion of Negro youth and Negro aged persons 
who offer their services on the Northern labor market.* 1 

Thus, it was not all due to any greater negligence about the Negro in the 
North that — as far as employment was concerned — he fared even worse 

' This fact, of course, is one of the main reasons why most of the outstanding Negro 
leaders are not inclined, during the present War, to postpone the fight for Negro rights 
until after the War is over. (For a representative expression of their attitude, see Tress 
Service of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People." [July 17, 

*See Chapter 15. 

'See Chapter 8. 

* See Section 8 of this chapter. 



296 An American Dilemma 

there, during the 'thirties, than he did in the urban South. In part it was 
just because the North, in other respects, treated him better than the 
South did that the Northern Negro population tended to outgrow the 
employment opportunities for Negroes. Still, the record of the North 
certainly is not a good one either. Many labor unions discriminated against 
the Negro worker. So did many employers, especially when it came to 
skilled work. 

7. The Employment Hazards of Unskilled Work 

We have found that the Negro's participation in the Southern non- 
agricultural economy has steadily become relatively less significant. In the 
North there was no further improvement in the Negro's share of the jobs 
during the 'thirties; the Negro, if anything, lost even more than did the 
white worker because of the depression. 

There is one factor behind this development to which wc have not yet 
given enough emphasis: the fact that the Negro is concentrated in unskilled 
occupations (Table 4). This circumstance must be considered in any evalua- 

TABLE 4 

Negro and White Male Workers in Nonaoricultural Pursuits 

by Social-Economic Status, in the North and in the South: 1930 

(Cumulative Percentages) 





All Male Workers 


Negro Mule Workers 
The North 


White Male Workers 




The North 




The North 




Occupational 


and 


The 


and 


The 


and 


The 


Status 


the West 


South 


the West 


South 


the West 

100 


South 


All workers 


100 


100 


100 


100 


TOO 


Clerical or lower 


83 


«3 


9S 


95 


82 


79 


Skilled or lower 


65 


67 


91 


93 


64 


60 


Semi-skilled or lower 


43 


48 


83 


86 


4' 


3« 


Unskilled 


23 


32 


. 66 


7i 


ZJ 


20 



Sourct: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Alba M. Edwards, Social-Economic Grouting of the. Gainful Workers 
tftiu Unittd Statu. 1030 (1938), pp. 36-59. 

tion of future prospects. Indeed, the Negro's low occupational status con- 
tains a greater danger for future employment than is usually realised. It 
means generally that his chances not only of getting ahead but of keeping 
any employment at all are more restricted. The expansion in unskilled 
occupations has been limited during recent decades compared with that in 
occupations above the unskilled class. 22 It is necessary to emphasize this 
point. For, just as many persons believe that Negroes would be able to get 
along if they only had sense enough to stay in agriculture, there are 
those who think that Negroes are over-ambitious when they try to get out 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 297 

of their position as common laborers. Negroes must become skilled workers, 
since the demand for unskilled workers is declining. 

The proportion of unskilled workers in the nonagricultural labor force 
is much greater in the South than in the North (Table 4). One of the 
reasons is that the iron, steel, and machinery industries, with their great 
need of skilled labor, are less well represented below the Mason-Dixon line 
than they are in certain other parts of the country. Then, too, there has been 
comparatively little incentive to mechanization in the low wage regions of 
the South. But this means, on the other hand, that there are in the South 
many more laborers who can be displaced by mechanization. The Wages 
and Hours Law tends to spur mechanization by raising wages. It goes 
without saying that the Negroes are, and will continue to be, the main 
sufferers in such a development. Over 70 per cent of the Negro males in 
nonagricultural pursuits in the South were in unskilled occupations; the 
corresponding figure for Southern whites was 20 per cent. The Southern 
Negroes were, in this respect, somewhat worse off than the Northern 
Negroes. Southern industry was more "saturated" with unskilled Negro 
labor than Northern industry. Almost half of all unskilled male workers 
outside agriculture in the South were Negroes. 23 The occupational status 
of the Southern whites, on the other hand, was somewhat higher, in certain 
respects, than was that of the Northern whites. The reason is obvious: 
white workers in the South had a near monopoly on the higher jobs but were 
less well represented in the lower occupations.* 

If the Negro's occupational status was particularly low in the South, 
it does not mean that it was high in the North. Actually there was little 
difference: about two-thirds of the male Negro workers in the North were 
in unskilled occupations. But since these Negro workers constituted only 
about one-tenth of all laborers in the North, 24 there should be more room 
for the Negro in the North, even if he remains confined to the bottom of 
the occupational ladder. 

8. The Size of the Negro Labor Force and Negro Employment 

Considering all the limitation that Negroes face in every occupation, 
even those where they are not completely excluded, it is pertinent to ask: 
What proportion of Negroes have any jobs at all? Is the Negro merely 
exchanging his position as a dependent and exploited sharecropper for that 
of an urban unemployed person and a relief client? 

In nonfarm areas of the United States in 1940, 47 per cent of all non- 

* This observation about the occupational status of Southern and Northern whites agree? 
fairly well with the finding about urban incomes in the South and the North. See Chapter 
16. Median incomes for white families, contrary to common belief, are not lower in the 
urban South than in the urban North, the reason being that the Southern white population 
— due to the presence of the Negro— has an "incomplete lower clan." 



300 



An American Dilemma 



discouraged from offering their services and, thus, ceased to belong to either 
the actual or the potential labor force. 83 

This development had gone so far by 1940 that, in urban and other non- 
farm areas, the proportion of the male population 14 years old and over 
that belonged to the labor force (those who were either actual workers 
or job-seekers) was exactly the same in both racial groups (78 per cent; 
see Table 5). The relative number of female workers and job-seekers, on 

TABLE 6 

Labor Force as a Percentage of All Persons, 14 Years or Aoz and Over, and 
Unemployed Workers as a Percentage of Total Labor Force, in 
Selected Large Cities, by Sex and Race: 1940 





Labor Force as a 


Percentage of All 


Unemployed (exclusive of emer- 




Persons, 


,14 Years 


1 of Age ar 


id Over 


gency workers) as a 


Percentage of 














Total Labor Force 




City 


Male 


Female 


Male 


Fern 
Negro 


lale 




Negro 


White 


Negro 


White 


Negro 


White 


"White" 


New York 


80.8 


81.1 


50.7 


3 2 .5 


20.1 


15.2 


18.1 


1 4.8 


Philadelphia 


78.5 


80.8 


43-6 


3^-9 


33-1 


15-4 


23.7 


14.6 


Cleveland 


79-5 


I14 


33-0 


3°-3 


16.7 


12.4 


22.4 


ir.3 


Detroit 


84.7 


84.7 


30.0 


28.1 


16.1 


9-7 


19.4 


n. 3 


Chicago 


77-9 


82.4 


35-7 


33-3 


17.2 


11. 1 


23.2 


9-5 


St Louis 


81.6 


82.9 


37-4 


32.8 


19.6 


IO.J 


20.4 


9.2 


Louisville 


79-7 


81.8 


45-7 


29.9 


17.6 


10.4 


18.6 


9-8 


Baltimore 


79-6 


80.8 


46.8 


29.8 


13-2 


7-3 


10.8 


7-9 


Washington, D.C. 


81.0 


80.7 


5'-7 


43-o 


10.6 


5-4 


"•3 


5-' 


Richmond 


79-J 


81.7 


56.1 


36.1 


»J.J 


6.6 


I3.I 


6.8 


Atlanta 


82.0 


83.0 


54-4 


35-5 


W 


6-7 


11.6 


7-6 


Birmingham 


82.0 


81.9 


39-9 


26.7 


15.9 


7-0 


14.9 


9-1 


Memphis 


85.4 


82.5 


44-8 


30.9 


H.5 


6.8 


15.5 


7-4 


New Orleans 


80.7 


Si.i 


43-4 


28.9 


15.3 


10.2 


15.2 


9.6 


Houston 


84.0 


83.8 


53-7 


. 2«-7 


11.9 


7.2 


9-7 


7.0 



Sowet: Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Population. Second Series, State Reports, Tables 41 
and 43 ((or Washington, D.C, Tables 13 and 21). 

the other hand, continued in most places to be much higher in the non- 
white than in the white population, even if the difference was smaller than 
before. White women still left the labor market at a much faster rate after 
having reached the age of 25 than did Negro women. 34 

The equalization in the proportion of white and Negro men and women 
who are workers or job-seekers has proceeded further in the urban North 
than in the urban South. It has also proceeded further in the cities than in 
the farm areas of the South. Even in the male agricultural population of 
the South in 1940 there was still a higher proportion of actual and potential 
workers in the Negro than in the white group. 85 This may be due, in part, 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 301 

to the fact that unemployment among Negroes is greater in the North 
than in the South, and much greater in urban than in rural areas. Also, it 
is an index of the differences in economic standards. Both relief grants 
and nonrelief earnings are much more adequate in Northern than in South- 
ern cities; both are particularly inadequate in farm areas of the South." 

We should not, however, be hasty in jumping to the conclusion that 
"relief has demoralized the Negro." Of course, something of the sort may 
have happened in many individual cases, both in the white and in the 
Negro group. But, by and large, the moral indignation against the Negro 
that is implied in this stereotype is entirely misplaced. We must keep in 
mind that so far no appeal has been made to the ambition of the Negro to 
better himself economically. On the contrary, white people, by means of 
the severe job restrictions they have imposed upon the Negro — and by 
denying him sufficient public health facilities — have forced him to accept 
public relief as one of his "major occupations." Therefore, if the Negro, 
in a sense, has become "demoralized," it is rather because white people 
have given him a smaller share of the steady and worth-while jobs than of 
the public assistance benefits. 

It should be emphasized, further, that, in spite of the more liberal relief 
policies of the last decades, there are still, proportionately, a greater number 
of workers and job-seekers in the Negro than in the white population. The 
decline has occurred mainly among aged persons who should be allowed to 
retire, 30 among youth who can use some additional school education, and 
among women who have their own homes and families to attend to. 

In the future, however, this problem may become of increasing signifi- 
cance. There is still, as we shall show," much discrimination against the 
Negro in the relief system. If these discriminatory practices are removed — 
and the federal government is working toward that end — but if present job 
restrictions are maintained, then, of course, there is a real danger that the 
Negro will become a burden on the national economy. This is the basic 
dilemma in the problem of the Negroe's integration into American economic 
life. It must be faced squarely. 

9. Negro and White Unemployment 

Wc have seen that there are more Negroes than whites, in proportion, 
who offer their services on the labor market. More Negroes need employ- 
ment than do whites, for the simple reason that the pay for each job that a 
Negro can get usually is so much lower than arc the earnings that a white 
person can get. Yet the unemployment is much higher for Negroes than for 
whites. About 25 per cent of the non white male labor force in nonfarm 
areas was without any employment on the labor market in 1940; and 15 

* See Chapters 1 5 and 1 6. 
"See Chapter 15. 



302 An American Dilemma 

per cent did not even have any work relief assignments (Table 5). The 
corresponding figures for white males (16 and 11 per cent, respectively) 
were significantly lower. There was a similar difference, although on a 
somewhat lower level, between white and nonwhite females. When the 
number of jobless female workers is related, not to the "labor force," but 
to all women, 14. years of age and over, one finds that the unemployment 
rate was more than twice as high (7 per cent) for Negro as for white 
women (3 per cent)." 

Conditions, however, are different in different areas. In the rural farm 
areas of the South, where only few persons are registered as unemployed, 
the rates were actually lower for Negroes than for whites. The nonfarm 
areas of the South show conditions only slightly worse for Negroes than for 
whites. It is mainly in the cities that unemployment is so much more wide- 
spread among Negroes than among whites (Table 6). The difference was 
usually quite large both in Northern and in Southern cities, but since the 
North had a higher general level of unemployment, Northern Negroes, 
of course, were even more adversely affected than were the Negroes in the 
urban South. In Philadelphia, about one-third of the Negro males, not 
counting those on work relief projects, were registered as unemployed; in 
New York and St. Louis the proportion was one-fifth. Negro female 
workers, as well, showed high unemployment rates in several of the large 
Northern cities. 

Perhaps Negro migration is the cause of this situation. The Negro mi- 
grant, as we have seen, prefers the large city. Whenever possible, he wants 
to go North. It is possible that he could have had a better chance in 
Southern villages and small cities. But, as explained before,* it is natural 
that the Negro prefers to go where he can escape injustice and restric- 
tions, which are usually particularly great in the small Southern community. 

Young workers are suffering from unemployment much more than 
others. In urban areas roughly one-third of the total labor force in the age 
group 14 to 19 was without jobs. Nonwhite males (36 per cent) were some- 
what above, and white females (29 per cent) were a little below the aver- 
age j but there was no substantial race differential except in certain indi- 
vidual cities. The situation was better for middle-aged people, but more so 
for white than for Negro workers. This finding from the 1940 Census is 
corroborated by other studies. 

The Health Survey data for urban male and female workers in 1935-36 . . . 
and the information from the 1937 Unemployment Censm . . . substantiate the 
conclusion that the Negro-white difference in unemployment risk is mainly a 
■problem of the Negro's inability to improve his chances on the labor market with 
increased age and experience to the same extent as the white worker. If age and 

'Ser Chapter 8. 



Chapter 13. Seeking Jobs Outside Agriculture 303 

experience help the Negro worker less than the white worker, how about education? 
Data from the National Health Survey . . . indicate that the unemployment risk 
for white urban workers, 16-24 years old, declines progressively with the increased 
scholastic achievements. About 56 per cent of the male white workers with less than 
a sixth-grade education were unemployed in 1935-36, whereas only eighteen per 
cent of those with a college education were jobless. Among urban Negro youth, on 
the other hand, there was no consistent trend of this kind at all except that persons 
with college training were somewhat better off than those with less education. Colored 
urban youth, whose education extended no higher than the sixth grade were somewhat 
better off than white youth with a similar lack of formal training. The colored and 
white youth who had completed the seventh grade had the same amount of unemploy- 
ment (50 per cent for males and 38-39 per cent for females). It was only because 
such a large proportion of white youth had gone farther than the seventh grade 
that their general position was better than that of colored youth. 38 

These findings are certainly extremely significant — in fact, so important 
that one would like to see them confirmed by other similar studies. It seems, 
however, that they are plausible enough. If white boys and girls do not 
care for openings that may be available immediately, they can, more often 
than colored youth, afford to postpone their entry into the labor market. 
This may explain why those among them who have little education may be 
even less successful in getting employment than are young colored workers. 
Since Negroes are seldom in demand for fobs for which education is neces- 
sary, there certainly is nothing surprising in the conclusion that they, unlike 
whites, usually fail to improve their opportunities by staying in school 
longer. Somewhat more astonishing is the finding that those with college 
education constitute an exception in this regard. But they are not depend- 
ent entirely on the white economy, as are most of the less-educated Ne- 
groes. The segregated Negro community offers a small but increasing 
number of jobs to Negro professionals.* 

'See Chapter 14, Section 1. The lower unemployment risk found for youths with college 
education may be partly fictitious, however, in that many of those who fail to get 
employment simply continue their studies and, thus, are listed as students rather than as 
unemployed. 



CHAPTER 14 

THE NEGRO IN BUSINESS, THE PROFESSIONS, PUBLIC 
SERVICE AND OTHER WHITE COLLAR OCCUPATIONS 

miHIIIIIUIIIIIIIIItlllllllltlllll|IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIHIIIMI|IIIIMIIIIIMIMIIIIIIillllllllllllllllllllllllMlllllllllllHt»lll 

i. Overview 

The position of the Negro in business, professions, public service, and 
white collar jobs is far different from that of the Negro wage earner. 
As a wage earner the Negro is excluded from many trades. Where he 
works he is commonly held down to the status of laborer and is excluded 
from skilled work. But there are always possibilities for him to enter these 
jobs, and he is always struggling to do so. In the occupations traditionally 
associated with upper or middle class status, the exclusion policy is usually 
much more complete and "settled." This is because it is fortified by 
"social" considerations, as well as by economic ones." 

The overwhelming majority of all other Negro workers serve the 
general white-dominated economy, but most Negro businessmen, pro- 
fessionals, and Negro white collar workers are either dependent on the 
segregated Negro community for their market or they serve in public 
institutions — like schools and hospitals — set up exclusively for the use of 
Negroes. (Some civil service employees are the only significant exceptions.) 

This has important consequences. The exclusion from the larger white 
economy means a severe restriction of the opportunities for Negroes to 
reach an upper or middle class status. It represents one of the main social 
mechanisms by which the Negro upper and middle classes are kept small. 
It also makes the occupational distribution in those classes skewed: While 
the Negro community gives places for a fair number of Negro preachers, 
teachers, and neighborhood storekeepers, it does not offer much chance 
for civil engineers and architects. The latter have to work in the white 
economy which does not want Negroes in such positions. The Negroes' 
representation among managers of industry, if anything, is still smaller. 

The poverty of the Negro people represents a general limitation of 
opportunity for Negro businessmen and professionals. Since they are 
excluded from the white market, it becomes important for them to hold 

'The term "social" it here used in the sense of the man in the street, especially the 
Southerner, and thus has the connotation of "intimate" and "personal." (See Chapter *S.) 

304 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 305 

the Negro market as a monopoly. The monopoly over the Negro market 
of teachers, preachers, undertakers, beauticians and others is generally 
respected. The Negro storekeeper, on the other hand, is in severe competi- 
tion with the white storekeeper, and only a small fraction of the pur- 
chasing power of Negro patrons passes his counter. To a lesser extent this 
is true also of the Negro doctor. The Negro lawyer has an even worse 
competitive position. The Negro journalist does not have to compete with 
whites in the Negro press but, to an extent, the Negro press has to compete 
with the white press. All Negro businessmen and professionals have to try 
to make as much use as possible of racial solidarity as a selling point. This 
means that the entire Negro middle and upper class becomes caught in an 
ideological dilemma.' On the one hand, they find that the caste wall 
blocks their economic and social opportunities. On the other hand, they 
have, at the same time, a vested interest in racial segregation since it gives 
them what opportunity they have. 

In the rest of this chapter we shall describe the economic position of 
upper and middle class Negroes. We shall first present a summary of the 
situation and then go on to examine each of the occupations separately. 

In 1930 there were only 254,000 Negro workers in white collar and 
higher occupations (Table 1). This means that only one out of fifteen 
Negro workers in nonagricultural pursuits had a status higher than that of 
wage earner. In the white nonfarm population as many as two out of every 
five workers were in business, managerial, professional, and white collar 
jobs. 1 The number of Negro workers in such occupations had increased by 
more than three-fourths between 19 10 and 1930. But the corresponding 
increase of white workers had been somewhat greater, so the relative 
position of the Negro had not improved. In 1910, 1.8 per cent of all these 
professional, managerial and clerical workers were Negroes. In 1930, 1.7 
per cent of them were Negroes. Thus, in spite of the fact that the Negro's 
share in these jobs was so extremely low, there was no tendency toward 
equalization. There was not even any great increase in the proportion that 
professionals, businessmen, and white collar workers constituted of the 
total Negro labor force in nonagricultural pursuits. In 1910 this proportion 
was 6 per cent. In 1930 it was 7 per cent. 

Conditions differed, however, for different categories. The Negro has 
had slightly better chances in the professions than in other occupations in 
this group. Indeed, in 1930 the number of Negro professional workers was 
larger (116,000) than that of clerical workers (83,000), whereas in the 
white population there were almost three clerks and kindred workers for 
every professional person. That the Negroes have as much as a 4 per cent 
representation among the professional workers is due to two main factors: 
the segregated Southern school system, and the segregated Negro church 

' See Chapter 38. 



306 



An American Dilemma 







TABLE 1 










Necbo Workers ijt Business, Professional, and 
Occupations, by Sex: 1920, 1920, and 


White Collar 
1930 




Sex and Occupation 


Number of Negro 


Workers 


Negroes as a per- 
centage of all 
Workers 




I9I0 


1 920 


»930 


1910 


1920 


1930 


Boch Sexes 
Professional persons 
Wholesale and retail dealers 
Other proprietors, managers, 

and officials 
Clerks and kindred workers 


64,648 
20,894 

19,103 
38,698 


77,118 
23.593 

17,610 
63,095 


"S.765 
28,343 

27.648 
82,669 


4.0 
1-7 

1.6 
1.0 


3-8 
i-7 

».3 
1.1 


3-9 
1.6 

1.5 

1/3 


Males 
Professional persons 
Wholesale and retail dealers 


35.815 
17,888 


39,434 
2o,455 


55.610 
24,493 


3-9 
i-5 


3.7 
1-5 


3-7 


Other proprietors, managers, 

and officials 
Clerks and kindred workers 


15,487 
31,926 


13,309 
48,046 


21,196 
62,138 


1.2 


1.0 

«-4 


1.2 

i-3 


Females 
Professional persons 
Wholesale and retail dealers 


a8,83J 
3,oo6 


37,684 
3,138 


60,155 
3,850 


4.0 

4-4 


3-8 
3-9 


4-i 
3-4 


Other proprietors, managers, 

and officials 
Clerks and kindred workers 


3.615 
6,772 


4,3W 
15,048 


6,452 
20,53 1 


6.6 
0.6 


55 

0.7 


4-9 

o.7 



Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Alba M. Edwards, Social-Economic Grouping of thr. Gainful Workers of 
the United Slates, ipjo (1938). PP- 7 ">d 13. 

with its numerous small congregations. Teachers and ministers account for 
almost two-thirds of all Negro professional workers. The small number of 
Negro clerical workers — only two-thirds of one per cent of all female 
clerks and kindred workers were Negro — is the result of the fact that few 
white establishments use any Negro workers in such capacities while most 
Negro-owned establishments are too small to give employment to others 
than the entrepreneur and members of his family. Negro storekeepers, 
other business entrepreneurs, and business officials had an intermediate 
position between these two groups. They numbered 56,000 and constituted 
about 1.5 per cent of all American businessmen. 

The North is almost as strict as the South in excluding Negroes from 
middle class jobs in the white-dominated economy. The very lack of segre- 
gation in most Northern schools makes it more difficult for a Negro to get 
a teaching position. Since the educational ladder is made completely avail- 
able for Negro youths, this subsequent barrier against employment, except 
as laborers) is more deeply discouraging. 3 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 307 

The subsequent detailed account of the various groups of occupations 
will show that, by and large, the prospects for Negro workers of higher 
than wage earner status are even more limited than can be learned from 
the summary data we have just examined.* 

2. The Negro in Business 

In 1939 there were not quite 30,000 Negro retail stores, including eating 
and drinking places, giving employment to an almost equal number of 
proprietors, and less than 14,000 hired employees, or — apart from 1,000 
unpaid family members — a total of 43,000 persons. Thus, Negro retail 
trade, in terms of employment, is not totally insignificant. Compared with 
the size of white retail trade, however, it is negligible. The total sales in 
1939 were a little more than $71,000,000, which was less than two-tenths 
of one per cent of the national total. The annual payroll amounted to a 
little over $400 for each full-time employee. 8 There were no signs of 
improvement in the relative position of Negro retail trade. The proportion 
of Negroes among all retail dealers was, if anything, smaller in 1930 than 
in 1 9 10 (Table 1). The same trend downward is visible during the period 
of 1929-1939. Total sales declined by 28 per cent in Negro-owned stores 
and restaurants from 1929 to 1939, whereas the corresponding figure for 
retail trade in the entire United States was 13 per cent. 4 

The Negro population has much less than one-tenth of the total con- 
sumer income in the United States. Certain estimates made of Negro and 
white family income allow us to guess that the Negro's share in the national 
income does not exceed 4 per cent, and is probably around 3 per cent. b As 
savings constitute generally a larger part of higher incomes, the Negro's 
share in total consumption is probably somewhat greater than his share of 
the national income, though not much. But even when the relatively low 
level of Negro purchasing power is taken into account, Negro-owned stores 
and restaurants probably do not have more than 5 or 10 per cent of the 
total Negro trade. The rest goes to white businesses. 

It goes without saying that the small size of the average Negro store 
increases costs, and thereby causes a competitive disadvantage. Prices tend 
to be higher than in the white-operated stores, or the margin of profit 
smaller. It is difficult for the Negro dealer to have a large variety of goods. 
Rcid cites an inquiry made by the Negro Business League in New York's 
Harlem in 1932, according to which a sample of Negro housewives blamed 

* The facts for the subsequent analysis will be taken, in large part, from an unpublished 
research memorandum prepared for this study (1940), "The Negro in the American 
Economic System," by Ira DeA. Reid in conjunction with Norgren's investigations cited 
in the previous chapter. It deals with the Negro in business, banking, retail trade, profes- 
sions and white collar occupations. 

"See Chapter i« 



308 An American Dilemma 

the insufficient variety of stock and the higher prices as the main reasons 
for their failure to patronize Negro-owned stores to any large extent. The 
extreme poverty of most customers puts another difficulty in the way of the 
Negro dealer: since he must depend on immediate cash turnover, he must 
avoid giving credit; at the same time he knows that he will lose many of 
his patrons by not granting them credit. 8 Housing segregation is a factor 
which generally helps Negro business. When a city, however, contains 
several small Negro neighborhoods, as often happens in the South, scarcely 
any one of them can support a prosperous Negro store. 6 Negro sections 
never contain any primary shopping centers; indeed there are few places, 
except in the North, where there are even secondary shopping centers in 
Negro areas. Negroes often reside close to principal business districts where 
no Negro entrepreneur can ever hope to rent a store. 7 

These things go a long way to explain how narrow the prospects of the 
Negro retail dealers are. Still, it is not only because Negro consumers buy 
in white business districts that the Negro dealer gets so little of their 
patronage. Negro areas, at least in large cities, have a great number of 
stores and restaurants catering exclusively, or almost exclusively, to Negroes 
but operated by Jews, Greeks, Italians and other whites. Sometimes this 
may be a matter of tradition, since it was only a few decades ago that many 
of the principal Negro neighborhoods in the North had entirely or predom- 
inantly white residents. Or it may be that real estate owners — most of 
whom are white even in Negro areas — do not believe that the Negro dealer 
is a dependable rent payer. Such an attitude, of course, must jeopardize the 
Negro's chances of getting a good location. Reid claims, in addition, that 
the Negro businessman himself has not always seen the advantage of 
locating his store in a competitive area: 

Besides the fact that the Negro grocery retailer is barred from the main shopping 
districts by social and economic factors, he believes that his business experiences 
greater success in a non-competitive area' where there are no other stores selling 
similar merchandise. The general economic truth that competition increases the 
volume of business does not apply to him, he feels. Such an attitude gives rise to 
isolation of Negro grocery stores even within the Negro community. The complaint 
of Negro householders that Negro establishments are inconveniently located is 
well founded. 8 

The Negro businessman, furthermore, encounters greater difficulties in 
securing credit. This is partly due to the marginal position of Negro 
business. It is also partly due to prejudiced opinions among the whites 
concerning the business ability and personal reliability of Negroes. In 
either case a vicious circle is in operation keeping Negro business down. 
Part of this circle is the fact that Negro business generally is not of the size 
and efficiency necessary to offer many positions which would give good 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 309 

traning to Negro youths who want to prepare themselves for a business 
career. 

Whether or not such factors as those mentioned above are sufficient to 
excuse the Negro's poor showing in business is, of course, a question of 
judgment. Particularly striking is the fact that only seldom, and then 
mainly because segregation has provided a monopoly, have Negro business- 
men succeeded in getting all or most of the Negro trade. In addition to the 
10,500 Negro restaurant owners in 1930, there were some 14,000 owners 
of Negro hotels, boarding and lodging houses (Table 2), constituting 7 
per cent of all such entrepreneurs in the country. They probably owned 

TABLE 2 

Number of Negro Entrepreneurs and White Collar Workers in 
Selected Trade and Service Industries: 1910* 



Industry and Occupation 



Banking and brokerage: officials, clerks, accountants, etc. 
Insurance: officials, managers, agents, clerks, etc. 
Real Estate: officials, agents, clerks, etc. 
Wholesale and retail trade: 

Retail dealers (except automobiles} 

Undertakers 

Clerks, salesmen, Saleswomen, and other white collar 
workers 
Hotels, restaurants, boarding houses, etc. 

Hotel, boarding and lodging housekeepers and managers 

Restaurant, cafe, and lunchroom keepers 

Clerks, bookkeepers, and other white collar workers 
Cleaning, dyeing, and pressing shops: 

Owners and managers 

Clerical workers 



1910 


1930 


634 

2,45° 
950 


994 
9,325 
4,695 


20,644 b 
<)S1 


27,743 " 
2,946 


10,989 


21,017 


",574 

f',3"9 

838 


14,173 

'0,543 

1,248 


c 
c 


',734 
156 



Sour e: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Nrgroes in the VS.: 1020-1932, pp. 355-358. Thirlmlh Census 0/ 
the U.S.: 1910. Population, Vol. 4, pp. 418-433. It should be noted that these figures differ somewhat from the 
classification used by Edwards, op. cit., in that, for instance, Edwards includes messengers among white collar 
workers, which has not been done in this table. It is evident that every classification of this type has to be 
arbitrary. 

* Only such trade and service groups as have any appreciable number of Negro entrepreneurs and white 
collar workers have been included. Regarding barbers and hairdressers, see text 111 this section. 

b Figures do not quite agree with those in Table z because they are based on different classifications. 

• Data not available. 

most lodging and boarding houses located in Negro sections; few white 
entrepreneurs would consider competing for this trade. Most of these 
Negro entrepreneurs were women, usually widowed. The majority of 
their places probably differed little, if at all, from ordinary private homes 
with lodgers. 

A real "business group," on the other hand, were the 3,000 Negro 
undertakers, constituting nearly one-tenth of all undertakers in America. 
In the South they have an almost complete monopoly on Negro funerals, 
as whites would not want to touch the corpses. In the North their competi- 



310 An American Dilemma 

tive position is almost as strong. They never handle white funerals. Since, 
in addition, Negroes are likely to spend relatively much on funerals, the 
funeral homes represent one of the most solid and flourishing Negro 
businesses. Barbers, beauticians, and hairdressers also have a complete mo- 
nopoly for similar reasons. In 1 930 there were 34,000 Negro entrepreneurs 
and employees occupied in this line of work, and they constituted almost 
one-tenth of all such workers in the country. 10 But these are the only Negro 
businesses in which Negroes are protected from white competition. In all 
other businesses of any consequence Negro businessmen are able to keep 
only a small portion of the Negro market. Seldom have Negroes succeeded 
in keeping a substantial white market. 

The Negro's showing in business appears particularly poor when com- 
pared with that of certain other "alien" groups. The immigrants offer a 
case in point. The foreign-born are "under-represented" among industrial 
entrepreneurs, business managers, officials, and white collar workers, but 
they constitute a larger proportion of the retail dealers than corresponds 
to their proportion in the population. In fact, one out of every three whole- 
sale and retail dealers in the United States in 1930 was a foreign-born 
person. 11 This high proportion may be caused, of course, by their having 
greater difficulties than native Americans in getting employment in many 
other occupations. At the same time, it indicates a certain resourcefulness 
in the struggle against unemployment. 

Particularly interesting is the great number of stores and restaurants 
operated by Chinese and Japanese. In 1929 they owned one-and-a-half 
times as many stores, restaurants, and eating places per 1,000 population 
as other residents of the United States. Negroes, on the other hand, oper- 
ated but one-sixth of the number of such establishments as would corre- 
spond to their proportion in the population. Nor is this all. The stores and 
restaurants operated by the Orientals were larger and gave employment 
to an average of four persons per store (proprietors and employees), 
whereas the corresponding ratio for Negro establishments was but 1 .6. The 
net sales of the Oriental-operated stores ($89,000,000) were not much 
lower than those of the Negro-owned stores ($101,000,000), in spite of 
the fact that the Negro population was about fifty times larger than the 
Oriental population of the country. 12 

It is a problem to explain why the Chinese have been able to build up a 
prosperous restaurant business with white patronage, whereas Negro-owned 
eating places nowadays have but few white customers, except in a couple 
of "tourist spots" in the amusement area of Harlem and one or two other 
publicized Negro sections in other Northern cities; and even those are not 
always owned by Negroes. 13 It is true that the Chinese restaurant profits 
from the special appeal that a foreign culture always seems to have to the 
American. But Southern cooking, in a measure, has a similar reputation 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 311 

outside the South. Since the servants of the Southern aristocracy have 
usually been Negroes, well-trained Negro cooks and waiters have not been 
lacking, and one would have expected that the Negro-owned restaurant 
would have had a particularly good chance, once the Negro had actually 
made some headway in this business. 1 * There are many reports about Negro 
restaurants having been popular among the white upper class in earlier 
times. 

But already in the 1890's Du Bois described how the Negro caterer was 
losing out. 16 Part of the explanation is probably the change in the character 
of the upper class restaurant business. In earlier times, the main require- 
ment was good cooking and service} the caterer may have appeared more 
as a favored "collective" servant to an upper class circle than as a business- 
man. But soon requirements were increased. It became necessary to invest 
large capital in restaurants intended for the wealthy. Or, as Du Bois puts it: 

... it is the old development from the small to the large industry, from the house- 
industry to the concentrated industry, from the private dining room to the palatial 
hotel. If the Negro caterers of Philadelphia had been white, some of them would 
have been put in charge of a large hotel, or would have oecome co-partners in some 
large restaurant business, for which capitalists furnished funds. ... As it was, 
the change in fashion and- mode of business changed the methods of the Negro 
caterers, and their clientele. They began to serve the middle class instead of the rich 
and exclusive, their prices had to become more reasonable, and their efforts to excel 
had consequently fewer incentives. Moreover, they now came into sharp competi- 
tion with a class of small white caterers, who, if they were worse cooks, were better 
trained in the tricks of trade . . , 10 

Not only has the Negro caterer lost out because he has not had capital, but 
also because he has often failed to modernize his business and be efficient 
generally. There have been, of course, social and political pressures, as well 
as economic ones, against Negro caterers. The few remaining Negro 
caterers and restaurant owners serve whites mainly, and their business has 
the character of a novelty rather than of a regularly accepted business. 

The famous old Negro barbershops went the same way as the Negro 
restaurants. Laundry work represents a somewhat similar example. There 
are more Negro workers in this field than in any other occupation outside 
of agriculture and domestic service. But it was the whites and the Chinese 
who started the commercial laundries, which have taken hundreds of 
thousands of job opportunities away from the Negro home laundresses. 
There were only a few hundred Negro owners of commercial laundries in 
1930, representing about 2 per cent of the total. Not only his experience 
as a worker but also his self-interest should have provided an inducement 
for the Negro to go into this kind of business as an independent entre- 
preneur. Yet he failed to do so. 

The building trade offers another example of how the Negro has failed 



Jia An American Dilemma 

as an entrepreneur, even when he— viewed superficially at least— would 
seem to have had a comparatively good chance. There are more skilled 
Negro workers in this industry than in any other line of work. Contractors, 
at Jeast formerly, were recruited from the ranks of the skilled workers. 
At the time when, in view of the small size of most construction jobs, most 
contractors were not much more than master workmen, many Negroes had 
a certain position in this field in the South, but soon after the Civil War 
the South started to become industrialized. Many factory buildings and 
large apartment houses had to be erected, and they required huge amounts 
of capital. Whites formed an increasing proportion of the skilled workers, 
and they attempted to monopolize the work on the large projects where the 
latest technical methods were used. Only in exceptional cases did they 
accept work under Negro contractors. Under such circumstances it was 
impossible for Negroes to make any headway. By 1910 there were but 
2,900 Negro contractors constituting 1.8 per cent of the total. In 1930 the 
number was down to 2,400, or 1.6 per cent. 

The fact that the Negro has never been able to establish himself as an 
entrepreneur in ordinary manufacturing industries* is less surprising. The 
public, of course, is not always aware of the racial identity of those who 
produce. For this reason, the Negro, perhaps, would have been able to sell 
on the white market had he been allowed to become a manufacturer. But 
the obstacles have been too great to overcome. In most manufacturing lines 
he has not even been able to become a skilled worker, much less a foreman, 
engineer or office worker. The chances of acquiring managerial skills, under 
such circumstances, were scant. Lack of adequate training made him infe- 
rior. His background in slavery enhanced his feeling of inferiority. The 
general belief that his inferiority was due to his race meant that even those 
individual Negroes who would have been able to overcome all other diffi- 
culties were stopped short. For one thing, it put the would-be Negro 
entrepreneur at a tremendous disadvantage in respect to the all-important 
problem of credit. One can almost ccAjnt on the fingers of one hand the 
number of types of production where the Negro, as an ordinary working- 
man, has been allowed to enter when he was not well entrenched already 
during the time of slavery. If whites put up great restrictions against his 
activity as a wage earner, how could they be expected to risk their money 
on his attempts to become an independent producer? In the South it would 
have been against the doctrine of the inequality of the races. In the North 

'Outside the building industry there were only a little over 1,300 Negro manufacturers 
in 1930. The main groups were the owners of suit, coat, and overall factories, automobile 
repair shops, and saw and planing mills. Most of these Negro establishments were probably 
small and marginal. Some of the largest individual Negro-owned establishments are those 
producing hair and facial preparations. In most other manufacturing lines there were less 
than five Negro entrepreneurs. (Edwards, op. cit., pp. 90-113.) 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 313 

there were few persons of the moneyed class who had any close contact 
with individual Negroes so that they might judge a Negro on the basis 
of his personal qualifications. 

A comparatively recent development which may have some influence 
on the Negro's position in business is the "don't buy where you can't work" 
campaign which started over a decade ago." On its face, this movement is 
an attempt to get Negro workers into white-owned stores, but it may be 
considered here because, in part, it is stimulated by Negro businessmen who 
hope to attract Negro customers away from white-owned business. The 
right of the Negro to boycott and picket establishments which discriminate 
against him was long contested from a legal standpoint. It was not until 
1938 that this right was finally established through a decision by the 
Supreme Court." This made it possible for the movement to develop. 

The direct purpose of the movement is to increase the number of 
Negroes employed in white-owned stores, movie theaters and other estab- 
lishments in Negro districts. Since usually the aim is not to remove white 
workers already employed but only to make the establishments hire some 
proportion of Negroes when new workers are taken on, the results cannot 
immediately be of great quantitative significance for Negro employment. 
The comparatively small number of white collar workers in most stores 
with large Negro patronage indicates that even the complete success of 
the movement must be rather limited. There may be some secondary 
results, however, in that a number of Negroes receive practical training in 
efficiently managed businesses — a training which is badly needed but for 
which there has been little opportunity so far. It may eventually broaden 
the basis for the recruiting of Negro entrepreneurs. Reid points out that 
this boycott movement has been used mainly in the urban North where 
the Negro has greater political and citizenship rights than in the South. 18 
Too, it is probably principally in the North that there are a great number 
of white-owned stores in Negro areas which are large enough to have any 
employees of white collar status. 19 

Since the boycott movement has had but a few years of full freedom 
from legal restraint — and in the South, of course, is still met with severe 
intimidation — one can, perhaps, expect more from it in the future, partic- 
ularly if the organizations behind it become stronger and more permanent. 
But we should not forget the limitations of this strategy. Even if all jobs 
in white stores in Negro sections were given to Negroes, it would be just 
a drop in the bucket compared with the number of jobs Negroes need to 
have. The Negro's main concern must be to break down job segregation 
and job discrimination in the white economy. He might even — as some 
Negro writers point out 20 — jeopardize this greater objective by asking for 

* From an ideological and organizational point of view this movement will be treated 
in Chapter* 38 and 39. 



314 An American Dilemma 

all-Negro personnel in Negro neighborhood stores. For this reason he has 
to content himself with removing practices of complete exclusion of Negroes 
in such establishments. Not even the ultimate gains can be large under these 
circumstances. 

The very fact, however, that one of the Negro's most spectacular fights 
for economic improvement has been directed on such rather limited objec- 
tives is an indication of how desperate his situation really is. One can well 
understand his excitement about it. The all-white establishment in the 
Negro neighborhood has been an offense that he could not possibly be 
expected to stomach. Even allowing for a possible greater success in the 
future of the "don't buy where you can't work" campaign, one finds no 
trend toward any real decisive improvement in the Negro's position in 
business. He may get a slightly better representation among the white 
collar workers, and there may be more Negroes who would become com- 
petent entrepreneurs. But the days have passed when there was much of a 
future for the small entrepreneur generally, whether Negro or white. 

3. Negro Finance 

Since the credit situation certainly has been one of the major obstacles 
barring the way for the Negro businessman, it is possible that the chances 
for the Negro in trade might have been somewhat better had he been able 
to gain a position in the field of finance. But the Negro has been, and still 
is, almost completely insignificant as a banker. There were not even 1,000 
Negro bankers, brokers, cashiers, and other white collar workers in banks 
in 1930 (Table 2), or less than one for every 600 white workers in such 
occupations. 

The story of the Negro in banking is a story about a handful of fairly 
successful small institutions — and a somewhat larger number of failures. 
The Negro has made more progress in the field of insurance. In 1930 
there were 9,000 Negro officials and white collar workers in this business, 
but they constituted scarcely 2 per cent of the national total. 21 It is a well- 
known fact that one white company has more Negro business than have 
all Negro-owned establishments together. 

Already before the Civil War there were numerous Negro attempts in 
the field of banking, but the Freedmen's Savings Bank and Trust Company 
— backed by the Freedmen's Bureau — represented the first noteworthy 
attempt in the field. It had branches in 36 cities and had an almost phenom- 
enal success; its total deposits at one time reached $57,000,000. Although 
most of the deposits were covered by United States securities, there was 
some unwise use of reserve funds, and this contributed to the failure of the 
bank in the depression of 1874. This event cooled the enthusiasm of the 
Negroes for ventures of this kind for a long time. Sir George Campbell, 
traveling in the South during the late 'seventies, had this to report: 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 315 

I hear much of the Freedman's Savings Bank, which failed with a loss of 4,000,- 
000, which has never been replaced; and the loss causes much distrust among Negroes 
inclined to save. 22 

The Capital Savings Bank in Washington started in 1888 and failed in 
1904, partly because of unwise and speculative investments and partly 
because of misappropriation of funds. During the early 1900's a great 
number of Negro banks were founded, but most of them disappeared after 
a short time. The bankruptcy rate of small white banks also was high during 
this period. Conditions became somewhat better, however, after the organ- 
ization of a state bank inspection system in 19 10. In 1940 there were 14 
members of the National Negro Bankers Association (organized in 1924). 

Today many Negro banks, like almost all white-managed banks, have 
their deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. 
Although Negro banks certainly are much safer than they used to be, they 
suffer from several shortcomings. For one thing, they are small, which 
tends to make operating costs high. This is claimed to be one of the reasons 
why they invest relatively less in low-yielding government securities than 
do most other banks. Investments are made in Negro real estate, but they 
are not easily negotiable, because of the restricted market for Negro prop- 
erty. Financial interests in Negro business arc often quite unsafe. A 
comparatively large part of the borrowers use the loans for consumption 
rather than for production purposes. Because of the poverty of the Negroes 
and the relative weakness of most Negro banks, only a small minority of 
all Negro families residing in localities where Negro banks exist have any 
savings or checking accounts with them. Some writers believe, however, 
that Negro banks have brought about certain secondary beneficial effects; 
white banks are said to treat Negro customers with greater respect whenever 
there is a competing Negro bank in the locality. It may happen, on the 
other hand, that the presence of a Negro bank gives the white banks an 
excuse for advising Negro customers to use their own bank. 23 

The difficulties of the Negroes who wanted to build their own homes 
and were almost entirely unable to get any assistance from white financial 
institutions was one of the main driving forces behind the foundation of 
Negro-managed building and loan associations. The first one started in 
Virginia in 1883. These associations have shown great progress, but also 
there have been a great number of failures. By 1930 there were some 70- 
odd Negro associations with assets totaling $6,600,000, or less than 1 per 
cent of the total assets of all American building and loan associations. The 
depression hit the whole group of institutions severely. The Negro institu- 
tions were hurt somewhat more than were the white associations, and, by 
1938, there were about 50 Negro building and loan associations — 22 of 
which were in Pennsylvania— with combined assets of $3,600,000. It is 



316 An American Dilemma 

significant that some of the most successful Negro-managed institutions 
had a partly white clientele, which means that they had a larger business 
and a greater diversification of risks than they otherwise could have had, 
if all the activities were concentrated in one or a few Negro neighborhoods. 

Most Negro associations, however, are small, which tends to make costs 
rather high. The actual average interest rate charged on building loans in 
1935-1938 was between 7 and 8 per cent, which was somewhat higher than 
that charged by white-managed institutions. Obviously, it is practically only 
upper and upper middle class Negro families who can afford to use them 
for the purpose of financing their homes. It seems that, at least until 1938, 
few of the Negro establishments had started to use federal insurance in 
order to safeguard the depositors and the shareholders, and but a handful 
of them were affiliated with the Federal Home Loan Bank system. Some 
of the associations may have done some Federal Housing Administration 
business, but in all probability it was less than for white-operated institutions. 
These various federal-sponsored services, by which deposits are made secure, 
loans inexpensive, operations more rational, and building programs better 
planned, have more or less revolutionized the whole system of credit, 
particularly in the housing field. It is a safe bet that Negro-managed institu- 
tions will have increased difficulties in competing, unless they are willing 
and able to qualify for such services, and the various federal credit and 
housing agencies are prepared to put in jome special efforts in order to do 
something about the Negro's desperate need for better housing. 24 

The fact that Negroes have made much better headway in the life insur- 
ance business is due to several factors. For one thing, ever since the 1880's, 
Negroes have been subject to differential treatment by white insurance 
companies in that some of them, at that time, started to apply higher 
premium schedules for Negro than for white customers, whereas others 
decided not to take on any Negro business at all. 25 The underlying reason, 
of course, is the fact that mortality rates are much higher for Negroes 
than for whites." This, however, is a social and economic, rather than a 
racial, phenomenon, and most Negroes in the upper and middle classes 
must consider the practice as highly discriminatory. And even when this 
differential treatment is economically justifiable from the point of view 
of the life insurance companies, it is only natural that it must be resented 
by all Negroes, and that they will be inclined to get around it by founding 
their own insurance institutions. 

Discriminatory practices have been followed by other white financial 
institutions as well. But there is this difference: insurance is used even 
among the poorest families, Negro as well as white, in America. Sometimes 
the majority of all families with an income of but $500-$ 1,000 have some 
form of insurance, and even among those with less than $500, usually a 

• See Chapter 7. 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 317 

quite substantial percentage pays insurance premiums. 20 This type of low- 
income insurance is, at best, mainly burial insurance. At worst, it gives little, 
if any, protection, in that persons who are not likely to keep up their 
payments for more than a few years are induced to take life insurance. 27 

But even when payments are kept up and small life insurance policies 
reach maturity, they usually fail to give real protection for anybody except 
the mortician. The burial business in most countries tends to be more or 
less of a racket, capitalizing on the reluctance of the relatives of a deceased 
person to economize the last time they can make any sacrifices for him. 
The American mortician business is no exception. The prices quoted in this 
country often appear high, at least to an outsider. 28 One cannot avoid the 
impression that great ingenuity is used to induce even poor patrons to buy 
unnecessary luxuries. This happens in the Negro communities as well. 

We have found that the Negro undertakers numbered around 3,000 in 
1930, and that they constituted not far from one-tenth of the total number 
of such professionals in the country. In other words, one of the few groups 
of entrepreneurs which has almost the same proportion of Negroes as has 
the general population happens to be one of those most likely to exploit the 
consumer. This, incidentally, does not reflect so much on the Negro as on 
the general pattern of this business. The Negro has had a chance as an 
undertaker because of the character of his work; corpses usually are segre- 
gated even more meticulously than live people. Then, too, there is a close 
relation between this business and the churches and lodges which are 
almost completely segregated, both South and North. And Negro insur- 
ance men often work hand in hand with the morticians. 20 

Like other Negro financial institutions, the Negro insurance business was 
originally based in a large measure on Negro church congregations and 
lodges. This is not to be wondered at, for white-managed insurance has 
developed similarly. The most direct origin of the insurance company, of 
course, is the benevolent society, of which there are a great number among 
the Negroes. New Orleans alone, in the middle of the 'thirties, had several 
hundred Negro benevolent societies. One of these was founded in the 
1780's. It is obvious that most of these societies are extremely small and 
that they cannot be organized on particularly rational principles or be 
made to work efficiently. It is not unusual that as much as one-third, or 
even more, of the expenditures is for administrative purposes, particularly 
officers' salaries, which means that the sick and burial benefits have to be 
reduced in proportion. 80 

In 1939 there were 67 Negro insurance companies with 1,677*000 
policies and a total income of $13,000,000. They gave employment to 
about 8,000 workers. Those were the Negro companies which had weath- 
ered the depression during the 'thirties. Some of them, nevertheless, have 
serious shortcomings. 81 



Ji8 An American Dilemma 

When evaluating the Negro's performance in the world of finance, one 
should not overlook the fact that similar white institutions have once passed 
through a period when inefficient and even irregular practices prevailed. 
In the case of banks and of building and loan associations, that time was 
not so long ago. The early 'thirties, when thousands of banks failed, re- 
vealed some appalling weaknesses in American banking organization. Thus, 
the difference in performance between Negro- and white-managed institu- 
tions may, in part, be a difference in the stage of development. This is not 
to say, however, that there is much prospect that there will be a second 
stage in the development when Negro institutions will grow strong enough 
to be comparable in quality with white financial establishments. The Negro- 
managed bank and insurance company will not get away from the fact that 
the Negroes are poor and that the segregated Negro community cannot 
offer any range of investment opportunities such that investment risk can 
be minimized. 

Indeed, it is difficult to sec a real future for a segregated Negro financial 
system. Basically, it is nothing but a poor substitute for what the Negroes 
really need: employment of Negroes in white-dominated financial institu- 
tions and more consideration for them as insurance or credit seekers. 

4. The Negro Teacher 

In 1930 over 5 per cent of all male workers in nonagricultural pursuits 
and almost 15 per cent of the female nonfarm workers were professionals, 
that is, teachers, clergymen, physicians, dentists, trained nurses, musicians, 
artists. The corresponding figures for Negro workers were much lower: 
2.6 and 4.5 per cent, respectively. 32 Thus the Negro's chance of getting a 
job as a professional was only one-third or one-half that of the white 
worker. Still, compared with the Negro's chances in other "higher" occu- 
pations, this is a relatively good record. 

For the total American population, the professional occupations had 
about the same relative importance in the nonagricultural economy in the 
South as in the North. For Negroes, however, it was different, particularly 
for women. In the South, more than 5 per cent of the Negro female workers 
were in professional occupations. The corresponding figure for the North 
was less than 3 per cent. 33 The main reason, of course, is that the Negro's 
chances in the teaching profession are much smaller in the North than in 
the South. 

School teaching, of course, is the principal Negro profession. Yet Negroes 
did not have more than about half the representation in the teaching profes- 
sion as in the total population. There has been a spectacular increase in the 
number of Negro teachers, but the white school system, too, has been 
growing rapidly, so that since 19 10 the relative gain for Negroes was 
limited, except on the college level. 31 By and large, the limitations in the 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 319 

Negro teaching profession are those of Negro education in general — a 
subject dealt with elsewhere in this book.' Where there are segregated 
schools the Negro teacher has usually a complete monopoly on the jobs in 
Negro schools." Where schools are mixed, Negroes have difficulty in 
getting in. 

The Negro teacher in the segregated school has a heavier teaching load 
than has the white teacher. In Southern elementary schools for Negroes 



TABLE 3 
Principal Groups of Negro Professional Workers: 1910 and 1930 













Negro 


Workers 


as a 




Number of Negro 


Percentage of all 


Groups 




Workers 






Workers 






I9IO 






1930 


1910 




193° 


Teachers (school) 


2 M3 2 






54,439 


4-9 




5-2 


Clergymen 


17.495 






25,034 


14.8 




16.8 


Musicians and teachers of music 


5,606 






io,583 


4.0 




6.4 


Trained nurses 


2,433 






5,587 


3-0 




1-9 


Actors and showmen 


2,345 






4,130 


4.8 




5.5 


Physicians, surgeons, 
















vetcrin nries 


3,139 






3,939 


2.0 




2.4 


College presidents and 
















professors 


242 






2,146 


«-5 




3-5 


Dentists 


478 






1,773 


1.2 




2.5 


Lawyers 


779 






1,17S 


0.7 




0.8 



Source: Thirteenth Census of the Untied Slates: 10m. Population. Vol. 4. pp. 428-431; and Fifteenth Census 
of the United States: 1930, Population, Vol. 5, pp. 574-576. 

there were 43 pupils for every teacher in 1933-1934, as against a ratio of 34 
in schools for white children. 80 This means that 26 per cent more Negro 
teachers would be needed in Southern elementary and secondary schools 
if the pupil load in Negro schools were to be brought down to the white 
level. And the need would be even greater if differences in school attend- 
ance were to be eliminated. While Negro teachers had less education than 
white teachers, on the average, the discrepancy in educational attainment 
was much smaller than that in salary. The average salary in Southern 
Negro elementary schools in 1935-1936 was only $510; in Southern white 
schools it was $833. The corresponding figures for Mississippi alone were 

1 See Chapter 15, Section 3; Chapter 41 ; and Chapter 43, Section 4. 

b The only important exceptions are some private colleges. 

'Almost 25 per cent of the Negro teachers in Southern elementary schools had received 
no formal education beyond high school, compared to 6 per cent of the white teachers. 
The difference was less marked, however, in respect to the proportions of those having at 
least three years of colleges they were 22 and 28 per cent, respectively. 



J20 An American Dilemma 

$247 and $783, respectively, but in the District of Columbia Negro and 
white teachers earned an identical high-average salary of $2,376. Apart 
from the District of Columbia, Delaware, and Missouri, every Southern 
state paid lower salaries to Negroes than to whites. 80 When the school term 
is over, the Negro teacher, more often than the white teacher, has to take 
up some other gainful work — often in domestic service or in agriculture. 

Indeed, there are few major cases of racial wage discrimination so clear- 
cut and so pronounced as that found in the teaching profession in the South. 
In most other cases there is not so much direct wage discrimination as there 
is a tendency to let whites monopolize jobs in skilled occupations or in 
high-paying and expanding industries. Those having the political power 
in the South have shown a firm determination to maintain these salary 
differentials in the Negro schools. The writer has heard several rational- 
izations for it." The only one which has any logical validity is that Negro 
teachers are not so well trained as whites. But even this argument is not 
strong. The trouble with it is not only that salary differentials certainly are 
larger than the differences in competence — and that they exist even when 
the excuse does not apply — but also that the argument has the character 
of a vicious circle. By keeping down all appropriations for all kinds of 
Negro schools," including teachers' colleges, one can, of course, perpetuate 
the inferiority of training. Frequently Southern school authorities have 
even gone so far as to hire Negro teachers without teaching certificates only 
because they could have them at sub-standard salaries. 37 

These facts of discrimination in Negro teachers' salaries have been well 
known and openly discussed for a long time. Recently, under the general 
direction of the N.A.A.C.P., the inequality in teachers' salaries has been 
taken before the courts. Teachers' salary differentials based on race alone 
were declared unconstitutional in I940. as This court decision and the 
continued fight in many Southern states have not persuaded Southern 
school authorities to retreat from their illegal practice. Only the state of 
Maryland and a few other localities have abided by the decision. Other- 
wise those states and communities that have shown any readiness to comply 
have usually contented themselves with plans for a gradual equalization 
over a period of years. When Negro teachers considered these periods too 
long, or when the authorities were absolutely unwilling to comply, new 
court cases were introduced. 30 In spite of this delay," equalization of teach- 
ers' salaries is under way in the South. The coming rise in the economic 
6tatus of the largest Negro professional group will represent a change of 
no small importance. It is quite likely that it will have certain beneficial 
secondary effects on Negro education and on Negro leadership. 

* See Chapter 9, Section 4. See also Horace Mann Bond, The Education of i/u Negro in 
the American Social Order (1934.), pp. 270-271. 
b See Chapter 15, Section 3. 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 321 

5. The Negro Minister 

Clergymen constitute the second largest group among Negro "profes- 
sional" workers. They also enjoy a complete monopoly behind the caste 
wall. The ministry is the only profession in which Negroes have more 
representatives than they have in the general population (Table 3). There 
are several possible reasons for the large number of Negro ministers: that 
Negroes are more divided in their religious interest than whites; that 
restricted opportunities in other desirable fields make a larger number of 
Negroes become preachers; that more Negroes attend church than do 
whites." 

The educational level of Negro ministers shows great variations; the 
average is extremely low. b The same is true of salaries. A few large Negro 
churches may pay as much as from $5,000 to $7,500 a year, and salaries of 
$3,000 or more are not infrequent in the larger city churches. At the other 
extreme are those ministers, particularly in rural areas, who have to be 
content with a salary of a few hundred dollars a year or with a fluctuating 
collection. 40 It goes without saying that a great number of Negro clergy- 
men have to have other employment on the side; it may even be that the 
ministry is a sideline which gives them their opportunities in other occupa- 
tions. Some ministers are teachers. Others may be farmers or laborers. 
Sometimes ministers are offered free shares in business enterprises in return 
for using their influence in behalf of such economic ventures. 41 Some Negro 
ministers arc associated with morticians. Small gifts from benevolent whites 
also play a role in many Negro ministers' budgets. Their outside economic 
connections give some Negro ministers an extra influence over their congre- 
gations. The income of many a minister of a small congregation "depends 
solely upon his ability to demand it from the members for religious pur- 
poses." 42 In the Holiness and the Church of God congregations it has been 
usual that pastors demand a tithe. Even plain misappropriation of money 
has occurred: once three bishops of the Methodist Church were suspended 
for this reason. 43 

Although many Negro ministers have been guilty, at one time or another, 
of these malpractices, it docs not follow that they are characteristic of the 
entire Negro clergy. Part of the explanation is that the position of most 

'See Chapter 40. While over 16 per cent of all clergymen in 1930 were Negroes, the 
value of the Negro church edifices in 1926 did not constitute more than about 5 per cent 
of that of all church buildings in the United States. Even this, however, is a pretty good 
record compared with the Negro's share in the entire property valuation of the United States 
which amounted to about 2 per cent (See Carter G. Woodson, T/te Negro Professional Man 
and the Community [1934], p. 66.) 

" See Chapter 40. 

* See Chapter 40. 



322 An American Dilemma 

Negro ministers is marginal and insecure, that their educational level is 
low, and that they have to sell out to the whites in the South where the 
latter demand it. 

In Chapter 40 we shall deal with the future prospects of the Negro 
church. It is losing out among the young people, mostly because the Negro 
preacher has lagged behind the rest of the Negro community and, particu- 
larly, behind other professionals, in acquiring a better education. Still the 
Negro church retains its hold over the Negro community and will continue 
to give livelihood to a large proportion of Negro professionals. 

6. The Negro in Medical Professions 

The total number of physicians, surgeons, and veterinaries in the United 
States was almost stationary between 1910 and 1930. The number of Negro 
doctors, on the other hand, increased by almost one-fourth (Table 3). The 
main reason for this is that Negroes have migrated to the North and to 
cities, where they are more inclined to patronize doctors, and especially 
Negro doctors. The overwhelming majority of Negro physicians reside in 
cities, and particularly in large cities.* 4 Since the Negro urban population 
almost doubled during this same period, there was actually a decline in the 
Negro physician-to-population ratio if we count only communities which 
are served at all by Negro doctors. In 1930 the Negro's representation in 
the medical professions, for the whole country, was less than one-fourth 
that of the whites. There has been no appreciable change since then. In 
1940 there were about 4,000 Negro physicians and surgeons, 45 and, if we 
add the veterinaries, the number was only slightly higher. 

There are several reasons for the limitations in the opportunities for the 
Negro doctor. Most whites would not ordinarily turn to a physician of 
Negro extraction — partly because of race prejudice, partly because they 
would not trust his ability. There are some significant exceptions, however, 
particularly in certain Northern, Eastern, and West Coast centers, where 
over half the Negro physicians in Woodson's sample said that they had 
some white patients, mainly among the immigrants. Even in the South it 
occasionally happens that white patients go to a Negro doctor. But this 
practice is largely — though not always — of a questionable character, in that 
some white patients want to conceal venereal diseases and pregnancy from 
their white friends. 46 In the upland areas of the South — for instance in 
West Virginia, western Virginia, North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and 
so on — where race prejudice is less intense, there are a few Negro doctors 
who have quite a sizeable white practice. Some of it, of course, consists of 
cases of abortion and venereal disease, but there are also others, partly 
because low income whites often have difficulty in getting service from 
other than inefficient white doctors. 47 

This white clientele has never been large. It is possible that it is shrinking 



Chapter. 14. The Negro in Business 323 

with the assimilation of immigrants and with the gradual institution of 
public health services for low income families. The Negro doctor, in the 
main, must depend on Negro patronage. And the overwhelming majority 
of both the white and the Negro patients of the Negro doctor are poor. 
Expenditures of private families for medical care increase with income at 
least proportionately, and sometimes more than proportionately. 48 

Only some of the dollars expended by Negro families on doctor's fees 
are paid to Negro physicians. Carter G. Woodson, on the basis of certain 
inquiries he has made, tentatively estimates the proportion of the Negro 
trade that goes to the Negro doctor to be about 60 per cent. He complains 
about 

... the large number of Negro leaders who after preaching race patronage and even 
boasting of our competent physicians and surgeons as proof of race progress, never- 
theless have employed white surgeons in undergoing operations, 40 

He goes on to explain how the trade the Negro doctor gets is not always 
indicative of any original appreciation of his competence among the Negro 
people. It has happened that white physicians have had to talk to Negro 
patients in order to make them believe that doctors of their own race are 
any good. Often it is only because white physicians want to restrict their 
practice to white patients that Negroes turn to Negro doctors. 110 

Another reason for the limitation of opportunities for Negro doctors is 
the fact that most public health services in the South are poorer, in relation 
to the need, for Negroes than for whites. 8 Even when there are facilities 
for Negro patients, it does not always mean that they offer any work 
opportunities for the Negro doctor. White professionals take care of the 
patients both in the white section and in the "colored wing" of a typical 
Southern hospital. Dorn observes: 

Until the Flint-Goodridge Hospital was built in New Orleans with the assist- 
ance of the Rosenwald Fund and the General Education Board, there was not a 
single modern hospital in Louisiana where a Negro physician could practice. In 
Mississippi . . . there arc no modern hospitals where a Negro physician may take his 
patients. A corresponding situation prevails in most of the other southern states. North 
and South Carolina are an exception due mainly to the assistance of the Duke 
Endowment Fund. 51 

There are only a few hospitals in the United States, such as Harlem Hospi- 
tal in New York City, where Negro and white doctors work together under 
a system of absolute equality. Concerning the situation in the South, Reid 
cays: 



Even in cities like Atlanta and Richmond where white medical colleges have con- 
trol over large public wards of local hospitals, Negro physicians are not permitted 
* See Chapter 15, Section 4. 



324 An American Dilemma 

to participate in their programs. When the Negro physician receives his degree in 
medicine and is licensed to practice there is little distinction between his training and 
that of any other American physician — but the equality ends there, for race pro- 
scription then begins. Opportunities for internships and residences are circumscribed, 
hospital and clinical facilities are denied, membership in county medical and other 
professional and scientific societies is refused (in the South). Hence the Negro 
physician becomes the general practitioner par excellence — isolated and serving a 
low income group. 62 

The prospects of the Negro physician are becoming increasingly uncer- 
tain because of the present growth of all kinds of public health facilities. 
This trend cannot fail to take the low income clientele away from the 
private practitioner, and this, of course, means that the Negro doctor may 
lose almost all his patients unless he is given a place in the new public 
health system. Many Negro doctors, particularly in the South, are quite 
pessimistic about their chances of getting such a place, and, for this reason, 
one sometimes finds the most ardent opponents of any program of "social- 
ized medicine" among Negro doctors. S3 They are undoubtedly right in 
assuming that an extension of the public health services to low income 
families would constitute a tremendous risk from their point of view. At 
the same time, however, there are definite possibilities for them in such a 
development j if they do succeed in getting a fair representation on the 
public health programs, there will be more employment for them, since 
these programs must cause a tremendous increase in the use of medical 
services among low income groups. 

The fact that the Negro doctor has such small opportunities for hospital 
training and specialized work is the reason why there is some justification 
for the belief that the Negro is less well trained than the white man as a 
physician or surgeon. The basic training is generally considered adequate. 
Only a small minority of Negro doctors are trained at white schools. About 
four-fifths of them get their education at two Negro medical schools: 
Meharry in Nashville, Tennessee, and Howard in Washington, D.C. The 
percentage of failures at state board examinations is about the same for 
graduates of Negro schools as for graduates of white schools. 6 * It is 
obvious, however, that these institutions cannot offer any wide range of 
opportunities for specialized work. 58 

According to a sample study by Johnson — which contained 510 cases — 
the median income of the Negro doctors was $2,726.41 in 1936. 58 Never- 
theless, some Negro physicians were comparatively wealthy men. Woodson 
found a few having fortunes of over $50,000. A large proportion of the 
Negro physicians, however, get a considerable part of their income from 
sources other than their practice. Several of them work for Negro insurance 
companies and benevolent societies. Some have made fortunes in real 
estate. There are those who own drug stores. Others have their own private 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 325 

hospitals, benefiting from a monopoly arising from segregation in public 
health service.* There are observers who characterize some of these business 
practices as exploitative. In addition, they help to keep down the profes- 
sional record of the Negro doctor. 57 

Having dealt at such great length with the conditions of the Negro 
physician, we can content ourselves by touching on the rather similar prob- 
lems of the Negro in other medical professions. There were only 5,600 
Negro nurses in 1930, constituting less than 2 per cent of the total number 
of nurses in the United States (Table 3). The reason why the proportion 
of Negroes is even smaller among the nurses than among the physicians is 
obvious: nurses cannot count on much private practice; usually they have 
to depend on the public health system, which offers few opportunities for 
Negro professionals. One would expect, however, that these limitations 
would be somewhat less rigorous in respect to nurses, since it would seem 
to be inconsistent with Southern ideas to let white women care for Negro 
male patients. But a solution to this delicate problem has been found other 
than that of letting the Negro nurse monopolize the work in the colored 
hospital wings. White nurses may treat Negro patients, but they are assisted 
by Negro maids who do most of the dirty work. 118 

The Negro dentist has a position much like that of the Negro physician. 58 
He may have some white trade, particularly among foreigners in the 
North, but also in some Southern communities. On the other hand, large 
numbers of Negro patients turn to white dentists, in spite of the fact that, 
in the South at least, they are treated on a segregated basis, with separate 
instruments, in a separate chair. The fact that Negro dentists, like other 
Negro professionals, have little representation in rural areas, forces many 
Negroes to use white dentists even if they want to go to a Negro. The 
average income of the Negro dentist is somewhat lower than that of the 
Negro doctor. Like the physician, he is often a businessman on the side. 
In his practice he may, sometimes, be unethical. It is often alleged that 
there is a group of Negro dentists — the so-called "glorified blacksmiths" — 
who satisfy the vanity of patients by decorating sound teeth with gold or 
by substituting more beautiful artificial teeth for healthy natural teeth. 
The writer has been told by some observers, however, that this pattern is 
gradually declining, owing to the rising educational level of the patients. 

7. Other Negro Professionals 

Potentially, there should be great opportunities for Negro lawyers. So 
often is the Negro wronged — in the South at least — and so little do most 
white people understand his plight, that there should be a tremendous 
need for Negro attorneys to assist Negro clients. Actually, however, the 

* It has even happened, in Detroit for instance, that municipalities which do not want 
to accept Negro patients in city hospitals subsidize second-rate Negro-owned institution*. 



326 An American Dilemma 

legal insecurity of the Negro is such that the Negro attorney often has but 
little chance before a Southern court." Protection by a "respectable" white 
person usually counts more in the South for a Negro client than would 
even the best representation on the part of a Negro lawyer. 

In 1930 less than 1 per cent of all lawyers were Negroes (Table 3). 
Almost two-thirds of the 1,200 Negro lawyers resided outside the South. 
Most Negro lawyers are the products of white law schools in the North. 
In Mississippi there were but 6 Negro lawyers, as against more than 1,200 
white lawyers. The corresponding figures for Alabama were 4 and 1,600, 
respectively. Of all those in the South only a minority are believed to 
devote themselves to their law practice, and rarely do they appear in court 
to defend Negro clients against white parties. Their main legal work con- 
cerns internal Negro affairs, such as those connected with churches, fraternal 
associations, domestic relations and criminal matters. 80 

In 1930 there were less than 1,000 Negroes registered as social workers. 
The New Deal, however, has brought about a tremendous change in this 
respect. According to a recent estimate made by Forrester B. Washington, 
there were over 4,000 Negro social workers in 1940. It is significant that 
more than half of these were in the North. 01 The South certainly has a 
smaller representation of Negroes on social work staffs than corresponds 
to the relative relief needs of the Negro population. This is so for two 
reasons. One is that, particularly in rural areas of the South, it is usually 
more difficult for Negroes than for whites in similar economic circumstances 
to get on the relief rol]s. b A second reason is that most Negro public 
assistance clients in the South are handled by white workers. This is quite, 
understandable. The new institution of large-scale public relief for both 
whites and Negroes in the South has been received with rather mixed 
feelings by those in power. The appointment of numerous Negro relief 
officials would have increased the resentment tremendously. 68 

Under such circumstances, it seems like something of an achievement 
that the Negro, even in a state like Mississippi, is at all represented in the 
social work profession. There are now Negro case-workers all over the 
South. Some N.Y.A. officials are Negroes. Negro housing projects usually 
have Negro management, at least in part. There are Negro officials in the 
Farm Security Administration and in farm and home extension work." 
This progress is due, largely, to the influence of the federal government. 
Then, too, Negroes have had the benefit of two rather good schools of 
social work, one at Howard University and the other at Atlanta University. 

* See Chapter z 6. 
'See Chapter 15. 

* Concerting' the under-representation of Negroe* among farm and home demonstration 
agenti, m Chapter u, Section ti. 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 327 

8. Negro Officials and White Collar Workers 
in Public Service 

In previous sections we have touched upon certain groups of Negro 
officials and white collar workers, all or some of whom are employed in 
public service: teachers, physicians and surgeons, nurses, social workers, 
extension service workers and so on. These categories include the majority 
of all Negro workers of higher than wage earner status employed by 
federal, state or county agencies. 

The largest of the remaining occupations is postal service, which had 
18,000 Negro workers in 1930, of whom 7,000 were clerks, 6,000 were 
mail carriers and the rest were in various minor categories. This meant a 
trebling in Negro postal employment since 1910, whereas the number of 
white workers had increased to a far lesser extent. The gain was due, 
mainly, to the development outside the South. In Northern states Negroes 
generally had many more representatives, in proportion, among the postal 
employees than in the total population, but in the South — and particularly 
in the Deep South — they were grossly under-represented in the postal 
service. 08 

In other public services" there were scarcely 6,000 Negro officials and 
white collar workers in 1930, constituting only about 1 per cent of the 
total. Of these, less than 2,000 were policemen, sheriffs, and detectives; 
and more than 3,000 were clerks and kindred workers; the remaining 1,000 
were in a large variety of other categories. 64 There had been some increase 
since 1910, but this seems to have been due largely to the development in 
some Northern state and municipal administrations. 65 

Negroes were driven out of Southern state and local government service 
after Reconstruction. The decline of Negroes in federal jobs was more 
gradual. During the Wilson administration, the Negro's position in the 
federal government became even more critical than previously. The num- 
ber of Negro postmasters declined from 153 in 19 10 to 78 in 1930, and 
several other Negro officials of the federal government were removed. 
Segregation was introduced into Washington offices where it had scarcely 
occurred before. The rule was devised that federal agencies, when employ- 
ing civil servants, were allowed to choose among the three applicants with 
the highest rating. Later exclusion of Negroes was made even easier by 
the requirement that every applicant was to supply his photograph. 08 
Moton observed that ". . . an almost perfect system had been devised for 
eliminating Negroes without violating any specific regulation or officially 
sanctioning discrimination on account of race." 07 Its effects on the employ- 
ment of Negroes in federal service was counteracted, to some extent, be- 
cause of the expansion in the federal administration during the First 

'The armed forces are discussed in Chapter 19, Section 4. 



328 An American Dilemma 

World War and — at least in the case of postal service — the rapid increase 
in number of Negro voters in the North. 68 

The New Deal had a more friendly attitude toward employment of 
Negroes in the federal administration, and this trend has become even 
more apparent during the present war emergency when the federal govern- 
ment, as well as certain state and municipal governments, have become 
increasingly concerned about racial discrimination. 3 There are no statistical 
data available at this time that would enable us to get any idea about how 
great the improvement has been. We know that the Negroes have made 
appreciable gains in the number of white collar and higher jobs in public 
service. But as the general expansion has been extremely rapid ever since 
the inauguration of the New Deal, it is not even certain that the proportion 
of Negroes in such positions has increased. 

The stipulation about appending photographs to job applications has 
recently been abolished. This does not mean that discrimination cannot go 
on. It is almost always possible to ascertain the race of the person certified. 1 * 
Professional workers are almost never employed without having had an 
interview with the official under whom they are to work. For this reason 
there are — outside of the special divisions for Negro affairs — only a few 
Negro federal workers having professional status. When a newly appointed 
person turns out to be a Negro, it is possible to find his work unsatisfactory 
and to have him dismissed after a while. Also there is always the possibility 
of barring Negroes from advancement. In most offices, Negroes — either 
voluntarily or involuntarily — sit together. Negro stenographers seldom 
get assignments as private secretaries; most of them work in "pools." 69 
In some places there is a more or less rigid segregation in cafeterias, but 
there are other places where such segregational patterns have been broken 
up. 70 

The future prospects, of course, are uncertain, but there is more hope 
for the Negro in public service than in most other work. Government work, 
for one thing, is steadily expanding; after the War there will, perhaps, be 
a temporary reduction, particularly of the federal payrolls, but the general 
trend, more likely than not, will continue upward. Then, too, employment 
in public service is susceptible to political pressure. It will take a long time, 
of course, before any efficient pro-Negro pressure can be brought on South- 
ern administrations. On the other hand, it seems that Negroes have not yet 
exhausted their present possibilities of forcing the federal government and 
the Northern state governments to employ an increased number of Negro 
workers. The principle of nondiscrimination is there established and undis- 
puted. The present war emergency, the realization of the low morale 
among Negroes, and the new consciousness of the American Creed are 

'See Chapter 19. 
'See Chapter 19. 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 329 

forcing the authorities to take action against racial discrimination in civil 
service." 

9. Negro Professionals of the Stage, Screen 
and Orchestra 

The Negro is often praised for his artistic talents — frequently in a rather 
derogatory way, for the implication is that this is the only domain where 
he is capable of noteworthy achievements. Many white persons know the 
names of some outstanding Negro singers and jazz-band leaders, and 
believe that this is the one professional field where the Negro has been 
able to make good. He has succeeded in this field to a certain extent, but 
even here his representation is not as great as in the total population. In 
the 1930 Census there were about 15,000 Negroes registered as musicians, 
teachers of music, actors, showmen, and showgirls, and this figure consti- 
tuted only about 6 per cent of the national total. 71 It is probable that it 
includes a great number of persons who were not competent, and that 
many made most of their income in other occupations, including illegal 
work, such as prostitution. b This is true, of course, in respect to many white 
workers as well. 

It is obvious that the competition must be much keener among Negro 
than among white artists, and this probably for two reasons. The market 
is smaller, and a number of ambitious Negroes, who, had they been white, 
would have had a range of good careers to choose from, are likely to try 
the artistic profession as almost the only one which seems to hold any 
promise. The relative limitations qf the market formerly were even greater 
than they are now. Before about 191 5, Negroes could not make up much 
of an audience, partly because few of them lived in cities, and it took some 
time before white people got into the habit of seeing performances of 
Negro showmen. Even when Negro characters were presented to white 
audiences, the parts were originally played by whites. This was true of one 
of the earlier classical caricatures of Negro life, the "Jump Jim Crow," 
given from 1830 on. After that came a series of so-called minstrels, who 
were white showmen with blackened faces. Soon, however, Negroes were 
allowed to help as assistants, and eventually they started out on their 
own. 72 

The northward migration has helped the Negro artist tremendously. 
The number of artists doubled between 1910 and 1930, whereas the in- 
crease for white artists was far smaller. The majority of Negro workers in 
this profession are in the North. 73 They are particularly concentrated in 
New York, which has one permanent Negro stage, the Apollo Theater. 
In addition, there are intermittent opportunities for Negro actors at down- 

*See Chapter 19. 

b However, less than one-third of these 15,000 Negro artists were women. 

° See Chapter 44., Section 5. 



330 An American Dilemma 

town theaters. Nightclubs, dancing halls, and other places, both in white 
and in Negro sections, provide additional employment. Most of these 
places are owned by whites, even though the entertainers are entirely 
Negro. 74 There are a few hundred Negro artists in Hollywood, but the 
pattern of using Negroes almost exclusively as extras or in minor parts — 
which, with a few exceptions, caricature the Negro — makes the economic 
opportunities for the Negro screen actor extremely limited. In 1935, for 
example, the total salaries paid to Negro actors by the film industry did 
not amount to more than $ 57,00a 75 Negro musicians usually belong to 
the powerful American Federation of Musicians (A. F. of L.). In the 
South they are generally organized in separate locals, and the same segre- 
gational practice prevails in many Northern cities as well. New York is one 
of the few centers where Negro musicians are treated as equals by the 
union. White locals often have jurisdiction over radio stations, theaters, 
and other large places of employment, and Negro musicians, in such cases, 
cannot work there without special permission from their white competi- 
tors. 76 

10. Note on Shady Occupations 

In the cities, particularly in the big cities, there is a Negro "under- 
world." 77 To it belong not only petty thieves and racketeers, prostitutes 
and pimps, bootleggers, dope addicts, and so on," but also a number of 
"big shots" organizing and controlling crime, vice, and racketeering, as 
well as other more innocent forms of illegal activity such as gambling — 
particularly the "policy," or the "numbers," game. The underworld has, 
therefore, an upper class and a middle class as well as a lower class. 

The shady upper class is composed mainly of the "policy" kings. They 
are the most important members of the underworld from the point of 
view of their numbers, their wealth and their power. The policy game 
started in the Negro community 78 and has a long history. 79 This game 
caught on quickly among Negroes because one may bet as little as a penny, 
and the rewards are high if one wins (as much as 600 to 1 ). In a com- 
munity where most of the people are either on relief or in the lowest 
income brackets such rewards must appear exceptionally alluring. The 
average amounts bet each year, however, often amount to a staggering 
sum in relation to the average incomes in the Negro community, 80 and the 
financial return is, of course, nothing for most people. From the entre- 
preneur's point of view, the game is a sure thing. During most of its history 
the policy racket in the Negro community has been monopolized by 
Negroes. 81 Otherwise respectable businessmen have had a controlling inter- 
est in the numbers racket 82 (perhaps because large returns in other enter- 
prises were rare), and many bona fide gangsters often own real estate and 

' Crime statistics, as further explained in Chapter 4.4, Section 2, give a grossly exaggerated 
idea of how Negro crime and vice compare with white crime. 



Chapter 14. The Negro in Business 331 

other Negro businesses, partly as a "front" to give respectability to their 
gambling enterprise and partly as normal and sound investments for their 
profits. 

While the members of the shady upper class are not accepted by the 
respectable Negro upper and middle classes, the observer finds that they 
have a great deal of status in the eyes of lower class Negroes and are not 
greatly condemned by agencies for Negro concerted action or by the Negro 
press. There are several reasons for this. Most important is the fact that the 
policy "kings" are wealthy, and that they are generous in a poor com- 
munity. 88 Also significant is the fact that when the organized white gangs 
became interested in the numbers racket, many of the original Negro 
entrepreneurs, having grown wealthy and not liking violent criminal 
activities, retired; they thus acquired a sort of second-hand and late respect- 
ability. Negroes have not usually been organized into gangs involved in 
all kinds of criminal activities as have the white gangs; they tend to be 
individual entrepreneurs usually in the gambling rackets and in machine 
politics — businesses which are illegal but tacitly accepted by public opinion. 

The power of these big racket kings is derived not only from their 
wealth and their political tie-ups, but from the fact that they provide a large 
number of jobs in a poor and unemployed community. The numbers racket 
requires a great number of middlemen who are small fry from the point 
of view of those at the top but who are not only rich in relation to most 
members of the community but also lead a free and easy, rather romantic 
and exciting life. 84 The young Negro fresh from the rural South is even 
more impressed than is the Northern Negro youth, but even the Northern 
youth is restricted by caste from the satisfying and economically advanta- 
geous jobs and must admire a person who has plenty of money, adventure 
and status. 

The high popularity and prestige of large-scale gamblers and racketeers 
is a general American pattern and not restricted to the Negro community. 
This American pattern is exaggerated not only in the Negro ghettos but 
in all isolated and economically disadvantaged metropolitan groups. Funda- 
mental to its explanation is the odd American tradition of keeping a large 
number of human activities illegal — for instance, the sale of liquor during 
prohibition and now gambling — in spite of the fact that they are commonly 
indulged in by the citizens without serious restrictions by law-enforcement 
agencies.* The American tradition of entangling normal and permitted 
activities by a great number of impractical, expensive or unenforceable 
proscriptions has similar effects. 

There are several reasons why it is to be expected that the Negro com- 
munity should be extreme in sheltering a big underworld. One reason is the 
very great restriction of economic and social opportunities for young 

"See Chapter 1, Section* 8, 9 and 10. 



332 An American Dilemma 

Negroes in ordinary lines of work, and the consequent experience of frus- 
tration. This is particularly strong in the North where educational facilities 
are flung open to Negroes, and public policy and public discussion are 
permeated with the equalitarian principles of the American Creed. The low 
expectation on the part of white people generally and the quite common 
belief, particularly in the lower classes of whites, that Negroes are "born 
criminals" must also have demoralizing effects. The Negroes' respect for 
law and order is constantly undermined by the frequent encroachments 
upon Negro rights and personal integrity, permitted in the South and 
sometimes in the North," which are widely publicized throughout the 
Negro world by the Negro press. This, and the general experience of exclu- 
sion and isolation, makes for a fatalistic sense of not belonging. Quite 
ordinarily the Negro is deprived of the feeling that he is a full-fledged 
participant in society and that the laws, in this significant sense, are "his" 
laws. 8 " The crowdedness in the Negro ghettos — often bordering white 
"red light districts" — the poverty and the economic insecurity, the lack of 
wholesome recreation, are the other factors which all work in the direction 
of fostering anti-social tendencies. The great unemployment during the 
'thirties must have strengthened these tendencies.* 

In addition, we must remember that much of the vice seen in the Negro 
community is there, not for Negroes, but for whites; it is carried on in the 
Negro sections because they are disorganized, without adequate police 
protection, but with police and politicians looking for graft. This is espe- 
cially true of vices other than gambling. Elaborate and expensive brothels 
cater to whites 89 (who have the money to pay for these pleasures) and are 
largely owned by whites. 87 The ordinary Negro streetwalker is in an unpro- 
tected, 88 economically disadvantaged 89 and overcrowded occupation. The 
peddling of dope, obscene pictures, and other appurtenances of vice, like 
prostitution, is part of organized vice rings owned by whites. 

There are no investigations which allow us to gauge what the Negro 
underworld means in terms of employment and business opportunities. 90 
As to employment, the chances are, as we have pointed out, that, except for 
the numbers racket, relatively little employment is given, and that what 
there is is accompanied by a low money return and vicious exploitation. 
But the numbers racket probably does give a considerable amount of 
employment at decent pay. As to the extent and size of the business, we 
cannot even have a reasonably substantiated opinion whether "prote